Scrutinizing Hot Online Degrees

Scrutinizing Hot Online Degrees

Marlborough, MA, June 6, 2008

Law, MBA and PhD: Do These Hot Online Degrees Hold Up Under Scrutiny?

Three of the most popular degrees when it comes to online education are Law, MBA, and PhD. But when it comes to making them work for you, these degrees meet with mixed reviews. As youӲe deciding whether to pursue your degree through a traditional program or online program, consider what others have learned before youŠsometimes the hard way.

The Online MBA

An MBA is inarguably one of the strongest and most versatile educational credentials one can obtain. It is a degree that applies to every industry, at every level, and for almost every position. Hundreds of traditional classroom-based MBA programs exist in the United States. Likewise, hundreds of online MBA programs are also in existence. So is an online MBA as valuable as a traditional MBA? The answer is simple ֠yes, if all other factors are held constant.

Of course, it wouldnӴ be fair to say that an individual with an MBA from Էww.PodunkUniversity.eduԠ(fictitious university) has the same qualifications as someone who earned their degree from Harvard, but so long as we are comparing apples to apples ֠similar programs with similar tuition rates and demographics ֠the comparison holds true. As an example, Florida State University (, like many state universities throughout the country, recently began offering an online MBA program. The #1 strategic priority in FSU's College of Business 2007-2012 strategic plan is to achieve ԩnnovative and high quality academic programsԠand as a direct result a quality online MBA program was born. Students in both classroom and online programs learn from the same FSU faculty, complete comparable assignments, and are graded based on the same objective criteria. Such online degree programs use advances in Internet-based technologies to address individual learning styles, while meeting the growing demand for flexible, convenient access to education.

When considering any MBA program, it is highly recommended that you ensure the college is AACSB accredited. AACSB accreditation ensures the school meets certain standards of excellence for faculty qualifications, program content, etc. (AACSB Accredited Colleges of Business offers a list of these schools). It is also important to consider your long term goals, and the local, regional and national reputation of the college from which you are getting your degree. A school with a national reputation is more likely to help you get in the door of a Fortune 500 company, while a school with strong local ties may be better for networking into a great small town job. Since the program is online, you have the flexibility of choosing to attend the University of Maine, while enjoying the warm El Paso, Texas weather year round.

So long as you choose an AACSB school, you have two thumbs up to begin earning your online MBA!

The Online Law Degree (Juris Doctor)

There are three words that can easily sum up what most students need to know when considering an online law degree: DonӴ do it!

Not yet, anyway.

There are specific reasons why you need to be very, very cautious of online law degree programs. Assuming that the end goal in earning this degree is to practice law, itӳ important to understand that to practice in any given state you typically must pass that stateӳ bar examination. In order to take the exam and get a license to practice, you must have graduated from an accredited law school. Currently, California is the only state that allows online law school students to take the bar examination and practice law in their state. This means that even after you invest tens of thousands of dollars, a few years and lots of hard work you still may be geographically limited to California for job opportunities.

Even more scary ֠try looking up ԯnline law degreesԠin Google and the search engine produces 5,660,000 matches in only .17 seconds. With that large of a results pool, itӳ easy to get caught up in the propaganda some of these schools put out for you to read. Of course they want you as a student -- they want your money and to boost their attendance numbers. Be wary of schools that operate differently than public schools. They tend to be much more profit driven, even some schools with Ԯon-profitԠstatus.

Reciprocity (a concept where one state will accept another stateӳ licensing of an individual to practice) is worth noting but only with caution. Individuals who wish to earn an online law degree must practice in the state of California for two years before being eligible to transfer their degree to another state. Even then, not all states will allow the transfer, even if the individual has been successfully practicing for twenty years in California.

Of course, over time other states are sure to catch up with the demand and change their regulations to allow students with online law degrees to take the bar exam in their state. So eventually this degree will make more sense for aspiring lawyers and judges. But for now, savvy career planners will avoid online law programs.

If your intent is to not practice law, but just to get the education, then an online law degreeӳ basic value is unchallenged. There are a few popular online law schools out there and the best advice is to do your homework. Make sure you know the answers to the following questions before making a final decision:

  • Is the school accredited?
  • What financial aid is available?
  • Are faculty members at the JD or PhD level? (properly accredited schools will have faculty members who have earned these degrees)
  • For what jobs have their recent graduates been hired?
  • What type of preparation is available for the bar examination? (if applicable)
  • What is your student pass rate on the bar examination? (this is a valid measure whether you plan to take the exam or not as it is a measure of how well they prepare their students ֠this is also a good factor to use when comparing multiple programs)
  • What kind of compensation should you expect upon graduation?

The Online PhD

So far weӶe given two thumbs up to online MBAs and two thumbs down to online law degrees. The online PhD is going to get both two thumbs up and two thumbs down.

Traditionally speaking, a PhD was an academic degree designed for individuals conducting high level research in a specific field. PhDs were typically hired as university faculty, teaching classes and conducting research. Often, individuals would spend 4 to 5 full time years studying and practicing in a university setting to earn this prestigious title, and then move on to careers in academia. If a career in academia (becoming a college professor) is your end goal, then an online PhD is NOT for you -- two thumbs down. The rationale is simple: the vast majority of universities currently do not recognize it as a valid degree and will not hire you.

However, the above is based on the historical use of a PhD. In modern times, a PhD is no longer just for academia. Many large organizations hire PhDs for high level specialist positions. Likewise, many consultants and authors desire a PhD not just for professional development but for marketing purposes as well (itӳ all about credibility). If your career goal is a job in an industry that requires a PhD, then youӲe in business. Online PhDs are increasingly available, and the programs are becoming stronger and more competitive by the day. Universities such as Capella, Nova and Argosy have paved the way, and now there are countless opportunities available in almost any field. Likewise, higher education programs realized a 9.7% growth in online courses as opposed to only a 1.5% growth in traditional classroom courses. This data suggests the trend is going online.


Online learning is most definitely the wave of the present and the future. According to a recent study of 2,500 colleges and universities conducted by the College Board and Babson Survey Research Group, nearly 3.5 million students were taking at least one online class in the Fall of 2006. Likewise, the study also found that 83% of institutions with online programs are planning on expanding the program. With numbers like these, it is fair to assume that online education is quickly becoming a dominant option in the development arena. Increased demand will continue to drive course offerings and so we can anticipate more formalized, accredited programs in all three fields.