Teachers With Online Degrees: Ready For Real-World Classrooms?

The number of education degrees earned at online universities now far exceeds that received at traditional universities. An analysis by USA Today of recent Department of Education found that, in 2011, the University of Phoenix awarded 5,976 education degrees, twice as many as Arizona State University (ASU), which has one of the US’s largest education schools. ASU awarded 2,075 degrees and most to students who studied on a traditional campus.

Ten years earlier, the University of Phoenix awarded a mere 72 education degrees to teachers, administrators and other school personnel; ASU awarded 912.

Traditional universities still award the lion’s shares of undergraduate education degrees but the majority of master’s degrees in education are now from online universities including the University of Phoenix and Walden University.

The Rise of Online Education Is Inevitable

As Robert Pianta, dean of the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, comments, “the whole industry is moving in this direction.” Indeed, Ivy League universities including Stanford University are investing in online educational companies such as Coursera and many universities offer online courses, if not online degrees.

But, as Pianta also comments, what is “the degree to which they are simply pushing these things out in order to generate dollars or whether there’s some real innovation in there?”

Report Criticizes For-Profit Schools

For-profit universities, both with actual campuses and online sites, have come under intense scrutiny. At the end of July, Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee,  released the results of a two-year investigation of the industry. The report found that, while peole have paid $32 billion to companies that operate for-profit colleges, the majority of students who enroll leave without a degree; half leave within four months. Said Harkin in a statement:

In this report, you will find overwhelming documentation of exorbitant tuition, aggressive recruiting practices, abysmal student outcomes, taxpayer dollars spent on marketing and pocketed as profit, and regulatory evasion and manipulation. These practices are not the exception — they are the norm. They are systemic throughout the industry, with very few individual exceptions.

In USA Today, the online education schools (of course) defend the quality of their course offerings, emphasizing that “students don’t just sit around in their pajamas.” The top programs are certified by the same organizations as certify traditional teacher education programs.

Online Education vs. Traditional Settings

Meredith Curley, dean of the University of Phoenix College of Education, points out that the average of age of a student is 33, with many students seeking a career change while caring for family and working. Online universities make it possible for such students to take classes and study in the times best suited for them, without having to get themselves physically to a college campus’ classroom. Janet Williams, interim associate dean for educator licensure programs at Walden’s Richard W. Riley College of Education & Leadership, said that students must complete a “full semester in a real-live K-12 school as a ‘demonstration teacher,’ paired with a master teacher and supervisor in the school district.”

But as TechCrunch comments:

Unfortunately, there’s no good way to compare the quality of offline to online degrees. Schools and unions are still in a heated debate over how to measure the quality of existing teachers, largely because we still don’t know how to measure learning. “Children are educated and learn over a period of time, but we have this notion that children are to make a year’s growth for every year they’re in school,” said Paul Heckman, UC Davis’ Associate Dean of Education. “This is —a problem, because children do not develop in nine-month chunks except during gestation.”

The convenience of online education is hard to downplay. My students are often glad to take some courses online, especially for core curriculum requirements; one less class to worry about being late for. As a teacher, I don’t think that online courses can ever be a real substitute for traditional classes where I have face-to-face interaction with students. But I do know that, thanks to email and social media tools, it is certainly possible to communicate and interact with students about coursework and it’s hard to argue about the flexibility that online courses offer.

But are teachers trained online ready for the real world of the classroom?


Related Care2 Coverage

Putting a Creative Spin on Teacher Training

Why Do Students At For-Profit Colleges Get So Much Federal Aid?

Pro Publica: Recruiters At For-Profit Colleges Lie to Get You In


Photo by Victor1558

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Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson3 years ago

they def need hands on experience!

Wendy Schroeder
Wendy Schroeder3 years ago

Probably not.

Norma V.
Norma Villarreal3 years ago

Online classes or traditional college----both serve the individuals who participate in the programs. When the educator is in front of the students -- that is where the rubber hits the road. Nothing like hands on experience! Power and blessings to those who choose to be in education.

Winn Adams
Winn Adams3 years ago


Kris Allen
Kris Allen3 years ago

Peggy, it is nice to see someone who is a paraprofessional going for a teaching degree. I think that is one of the best ways for a prospective teacher to know if education is the right career choice. In fact, it may be a better route than the traditional way of going from high school to college with an education major. I'm sure you have learned a great deal before ever starting the rigorous coursework. At least the courses will make more sense to you, with your background. Best of luck!

Peggy J.
Peggy Jakopak3 years ago

I am currently taking online classes at UoP for my teaching degree and let me tell you, this is every bit as hard as attending a "traditional" college. I am a paraprofessional right now, and I have talked over my classes with my teachers and they are surprised at how hard some of the classes are. Not to mention I have to take the Praxis THREE times. Once to even get in my core teaching classes, once in the middle, and then once again at the end of all my classes. I have not found a single other school that requires that. I watched a friend do her student teaching from UoP at the school where I work and the teachers all commented on how hard they felt the requirements were compared to what they did. We have to take every traditional semester course in a five week period and we get no breaks in between classes. They are back to back from the start to the finish. This is no easy school folks, especially for those of us who have been out of school for an extended period of time, working, raising our kids, etc.

With rising tuition costs, college forcing kids to stay in dorms for up two two years, gas prices, rent prices, even food prices, I think this is going to be happening with more and more degrees. We all tell our kids you won't get anywhere without a college education, and traditional colleges are making that seem more and more like the impossible dream. My daughter will graduate with so much debt it is just scary. I wanted something better for myself now th

Jennifer C.
Past Member 3 years ago

Thank you.

Danuta Watola
Danuta Watola3 years ago

Interesting article.

june t.
june t.3 years ago

thanks for the post

Kris Allen
Kris Allen3 years ago

Thanks for the visual, Gloria. Made me laugh, but it's true!