In two recent posts about education and Christians, I’ve covered unaccredited degrees and paths toward joining the scholarly community. As always, take what I say with a grain of salt; I am just a guy on the internet, not a professional offering guarantees or some kind of expert. Even still, I’m pressing on, covering online degrees. Should you get one or not?
Well, it depends (cop out, I know!). In my opinion, if you want to advance academically to the highest levels (PhD), then the answer is “probably not.” Why? For one, it will be very difficult to get good recommendation letters. The professors don’t know you, and usually they are uncomfortable recommending someone they’ve never met personally. On the rare occasions they do, they will often be professors who are not recognized in their fields (but this is not always true!). It’s not impossible (especially if the PhD you desire to do is at the school in question), but it makes it significantly more difficult.
Also, another con of online education is that it’s not as academically demanding as the best “brick and mortar” schools are. Let me state my qualifications, as it were: I did my bachelor’s degree at an accredited brick-and-mortar; I did my master’s at a regionally accredited online program; I’m doing another master’s at a regionally accredited and ATS accredited brick-and-mortar. The method of most online programs is not to have much in the way of lectures; many classes at the online program I was at had us watch 10-minute videos (one per week), and the rest was largely teach yourself with books. While this can be very effective (I did indeed learn a lot during this time), the lack of much interaction with professors (it would sometimes take a week to get any response via e-mail, and this would be one paragraph at most), superficial conversations with most students, and a lack of full lectures and the questions that naturally arise prevented me from gaining all I could (after all, there were some things I didn’t even know about, so could hardly learn; that’s why we have teachers!). I can say my current master’s program far exceeds in level of difficulty and information gained the level of my first master’s.
So what, am I saying online degrees are inferior? Not at all. They can do something no brick-and-mortar program alone can do: they can help those who cannot relocate. If you cannot feasibly move your family, or get away from your job, or whatnot, then these are perfect degrees for you! They are academically rich, exposing you to many things you may not otherwise have considered. They are good for giving theological training to laymen who have never received any formal training. And finally, they are good for pastors or pastoral staff who would like some more specialized training (like in youth ministry or counseling). So should you get an online degree? It depends on your situation!