The information age is revolutionizing the way we do almost everything, from watching movies and playing games to communicating with our families and business partners. Education is no different; the Sloan Consortium reports that over 4.6 million students took online college courses in 2008 – that’s 17% growth over the previous year*. But if you’re going to study online, which degree programs are best?
1. Business programs, including Master of Business Administration (MBA). Online college courses in business work well because business classes do not generally involve hands-on lab work that requires face-to-face instruction. Instead, business majors often acquire their practical experience through jobs and internships. Online MBA programs are excellent for working adults who want to take their business career to the next level, but can’t attend regular classes because of work and family commitments.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that business management analysts earned between $41,910 and $133,850 in 2008, depending on location, experience and the type of company at which they worked**.
2. Nursing programs, including Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). The BLS estimates that nursing will expand by 22% through 2018, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. This growth has created enormous demand for nursing education, so many schools have introduced online college courses in this field. A large number of nurses attain registered nurse (RN) licensure through associate’s degree programs, but later decide to earn a BSN so they can advance their careers. This has made online RN to BSN programs very popular.
The BLS reports that RNs earned between $43,410 and $92,240 in 2008, depending on location, experience and the type of facility in which they worked**.
3. Information technology (IT) programs. The IT field naturally lends itself to web-based learning, making online college courses in areas like computer programming and software engineering very common. The BLS also estimates that employment for computer software engineers and programmers will expand by 21% though 2018 – including almost 300,000 new software engineering jobs. This kind of growth ensures that more and more schools will add IT programs to their online offerings.
The BLS reports that computer software engineers and programmers earned between $53,720 and $128,870 in 2008, depending on experience, location and the type of company at which they worked**.
4. Healthcare administration programs. Many healthcare workers who begin their careers on the patient care side of the field later decide to move into administration. Because many of them already have work and family responsibilities, the flexible scheduling of online college courses is something they require. This makes web-based healthcare administration programs very popular, and a large number of schools are expanding their offerings in this area to keep up with demand.
The BLS reports that medical and health services managers earned between $48,300 and $137,800 in 2008, depending on experience, location, and the type of facility in which they worked**.
5. Criminal justice programs. The field of criminal justice is considered exciting by many young people. It also attracts those who feel a desire to serve their community, including many former members of the military. Most schools that offer online college courses have criminal justice programs for these reasons. Those who want to become police officers typically pursue an associate's degree, while those who want to work as detectives usually enter bachelor's programs.
The BLS reports that police officers earned between $30,070 and $79,680 in 2008, while detectives made between $36,500 and $114,300 during the same period**.
*Learning on Demand: Online Education in the United States, 2009 (released January 2010)
**Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition (accessed August 2010)