You’ve probably seen the commercials. “Earn your college degree online!” “Just a few easy steps toward a degree.” Employers look favorably upon job candidates who have a college education. Online degree programs are one way that people already in the workforce can work toward a college degree or an advanced degree. But is taking online courses right for you? What are some of the benefits or disadvantages to taking online courses versus attending traditional institutions?
Distance learning eliminates many of the barriers that keep many adults already in the workplace from advancing their education. Online courses give students the flexibility to schedule their coursework at times that fit with their work schedules. This flexibility in scheduling makes online college courses ideal for adults wishing to expand their education. It’s the best of two worlds — they can pursue a degree without having to give up a job and income.
For current students, online courses provide the opportunity to take courses they would otherwise not be able to schedule in. A student might not be able to add another class during the week because he or she has a full schedule of classes and work. But a weekend may afford extra time for an additional class. An online course would give that student much more flexibility in course scheduling. Here are a few universities that offer online degree programs.
Eastern New Mexico University Roswell
Eastern New Mexico University Roswell (ENMUR) has an online degree program geared specifically for aircraft maintenance professionals. The degree is an associate’s degree in applied science. The university offers credit hours for an A&P certificate. ENMUR is working on an online bachelor’s degree, but doesn’t currently offer a bachelor’s degree through online study.
I took a class through ENMUR last year. The purpose was twofold. First, I wanted to experience taking an online course. Second, I wanted to step back in the classroom to continue my own education. The course I took was University 101. It is a required course for all students. I must admit that when I first enrolled in the class I thought it would be a waste of time. I quickly realized that I was wrong. The class taught me important skills that are essential not only in school but also at work. Some of the things covered included study habits, communication skills, and memory skills. There were about 25 students in my class, the majority of them A&P mechanics.
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) offers several courses online. It offers several distance learning degree programs through its extended campus. There are undergraduate associate’s and bachelor’s degrees as well as graduate degree programs available. The university also offers college credit for mechanics who have their A&P. There are several areas of study including professional aeronautics, aviation maintenance management, and occupational safety and health.
LeTourneau University offers several online degree programs including online undergraduate degrees in business administration and business management. It also offers an online MBA program. The university offers credit for work experience, although there is no set credit. Le Tourneau works with each individual student to assess their experience and determine the educational program that best fits their needs.
Do some research
Just as if you were looking to enroll in a college or university, you must do some research before you begin. Look into the colleges that offer online degree programs. If you are looking to further your aviation career, you may want to focus on universities that offer programs with an aviation focus. If you are interested in a general degree (say a bachelor’s in business administration), there are many universities that advertise online degree programs.
Contact the different universities to see what program best fits your needs. In addition, ask for specific information on how the online courses work. Each online program works a little differently. There are different software programs used. These different programs are what give online students the ability to interact with the instructor and classmates. Here are a few things to think about.
Professional credit. You have worked hard to obtain your A&P, and some universities are acknowledging that hard work. They offer college credits for your A&P certificates. Check with each university to see how many hours they offer for an A&P certificate.
Course duration. Is completing the program in a quick time frame important to you? Then you may opt to enroll in a program that offers self-paced study or an accelerated degree program. For example, LeTourneau offers accelerated degree programs where the students go through the courses in a quicker time frame. But be prepared to devote additional study time for accelerated programs.
Cost. Cost is a major factor for many students. Check the cost of tuition at the universities you are looking into to determine the total cost. Don’t forget to consider additional costs of books and supplies. In addition, check with your company to see if it offers any type of tuition reimbursement program. Many employers offer tuition reimbursement to employees. If you are still stretched for cash, check with the associations such as the Aircraft Electronics Association (AEA), Association for Women in Aviation Maintenance (AWAM), National Air Transportation Association (NATA), Professional Aviation Maintenance Association (PAMA), or Women in Aviation International (WAI) for any scholarships that are available. Associations award thousands of dollars each year in scholarships. But you won’t have a chance for any of that money if you don’t do some research and apply for the scholarships you are eligible for.
Another factor to consider in regards to cost is the amount of courses you will need to complete your degree. If one university offers a lower tuition cost, it may not be the best value. If you need to attend more classes because you don’t get as much college credit for your A&P then it may cost more in the long run.
Although cost is an important factor for many potential students, don’t make your college decision solely on cost. Do your research and go with the institution that offers the best value for your needs.
I asked ERAU graduate Greg Mellema, a technical instructor for Reno, Nevada-based Abaris, what advice he would give potential online students. Greg’s first tip had to do with course flexibility. “The best thing about taking college courses online is flexibility,” Mellema says. “You can ‘attend’ class at your convenience and work at your own pace on assignments. But I would have to say that flexibility is also the most difficult part of online courses. If you don’t stay on top of your assignments, they can easily get away from you.”
Many potential students assume that online courses are easier than traditional classroom courses. Don’t let yourself fall into that trap. “You need to devote more time to an online course than you would for a classroom course for the same amount of credit hours,” Mellema shares. “In a classroom environment, you can ask your instructor questions if you get confused and get instant feedback. But in an online course you need to do a lot more self-study. You still have some interaction with the instructor and classmates, but it is not the same as a classroom environment. So be prepared to spend more time per credit hour studying.”
Having taken an online course myself, I would definitely agree with Greg on the increased time requirement. Most colleges recommend that if you want to get a good grade, you must spend two hours studying for each hour in a traditional class. So, for a class that is three credit hours, you will need to study about six additional hours each week to do well.
But online courses don’t have specific class times. So you have to factor in additional time for “class time.” Add to that the difficulty of self-study for some, and you may be looking at spending nine to 12 hours a week to do well in a course that is three credit hours. But don’t let that scare you. It can be done. You just need to be aware of the time requirements and make the time to study. Because of the flexibility of online courses, you will be able to do this more easily than trying to arrange your work and study schedule around a traditional classroom course.
Online degrees have provided a means for many professionals who are already working in the industry to be able to get a college degree without having to quit work or commute to a classroom. Our home computer can now be our classroom. With the many doors toward career advancement that college degrees open, can you really afford not to look into them?