Adapting to Our World: will an online degree plus experience and skills be greater than a traditional college degree?

Some thoughts and opinions based on the blog To College or Not to College – the Million Dollar Question, written by Dave Dunn

In the 1990’s, MBA’s were all the rage, costing upwards of $100,000 in promise of guaranteed job placement and higher earnings. Fast forward 15 years and those who invested likely made no significant gain up the corporate ladder, nor are financially more well off than a well experience bachelor degree-earning employee. Why? Corporations are looking for real-life experience and skill, not something learned in a lecture hall based on theory. Yes, theory is a good basis, but it is not practical application.

Enter the online degree – laughable by most in the modern corporate world. If your resume shows you earned a degree at the University of “XYZ” Online, your resume is certain to find it’s way to the “thank you for your interest” file. – unless of course the hiring manager holds an online degree – how did she get that job anyway? Will experience and skills override a degree? I believe so. Will a degree be worthless? Certainly not, but I do see a heavier weight on experience, skill and preparedness over a degree as we go into the future 5, 10 even 20 year.

My point is, true leaders will adapt to our exponentially expanding reliance on technology and digital communication. Ten years from now, an online degree may be a coveted asset to a corporation. It shows you can work remotely, independently and efficiently. It tests your ability to collaborate with others in a virtual world and across the globe – likely learning about diversity and cultural inclusivity, leading yourself, and with other, to gain the skills necessary to be successful in your chosen profession– all without direct supervision. If you are a hiring manager, these may sound like some great skill you may be lacking in many of your employees.

As online learning and the corresponding technology evolves, so will the checks and balances in the system to make sure students are fully engaged and learning at the same pace or better than student in a traditional classroom.   Are they there now? Not quite. The current problem of wading through online resources to determine which are accurate, effective, tried and tested. It is a chasm currently facing the online education world. How will these services be evaluated and ranked? Will higher ranking mean it will cost more? Will cost be regulated so everyone can afford quality education? If so, who will regulate it?

These questions and ideas require thought leadership, risk taking and perseverance, that I believe will lead to a positive change in how higher education is delivered and valued in combination with experience and skills.

Adaptation will happen. It’s happened since the beginning of time, from Copernicus to 9/11. From an education standpoint, thought leaders in the 1990’s predicted every student in a classroom would have a laptop and online access. Those with a fixed mindset scoffed at the idea, citing it would be cost-prohibitive, an IT nightmare, and logistically impossible to launch. Today, with The Chromebook for Education program and the like, there are many schools that are offering each student a computer; and guess what, teachers are incorporating online learning tools. We are already adapting. Yes, these are early adopters, but the trend will continue to grow and work its way into all schools as technology cost decreases and our technology infrastructure grows.

Let’s get back to thinking about the value of a traditional college classroom. How will online classes change our world from a sociological standpoint? College is where you gain your independence. Break free from your parents. Become your own person. It defines who you are through a complex interaction of making new friends, joining social groups (fraternities/sororities, clubs) all in the spirit of what you believe in. You live on your own, not in you parents house. College is where you are supposed to experience life with the ability to fail and learn from those mistakes, because you are just a young student finding your way.

But wait a minute, isn’t this what social media is today? Is this the evolution, the adaptation we are looking for? Will social media replace fraternity and sorority organizations and turn them into virtual social groups? Students are already finding where they fit in socially in a virtual online world and making mistakes and learning from them as they grow physically, mentally and emotionally. Just look at your child’s social media pages (if you are not, you should be!).

The thought of saving for my son’s education is a no brainer, regardless of where education will go by 2025 (his graduating class). However, Suze Orman said it best, – You should never go into debt saving for your child’s education. They will have student loans to help them, and time to pay them back. So yes, we are saving for his higher education, but putting aside only what we can afford. Sage advise for everyone.

So back to the question posed by Dave Dunn, to college or not to college? Will you spend tens of thousands of dollars or more for a traditional college education, or far less on an online education? I would say, in the future, yes, as long as the quality can be controlled, the costs are kept within reach of the average income, skills and experiences can be learned, and corporate leaders change their mindset to weigh skills and experience equal to or over a degree from a traditional college or university.  It is likely already happening.

Blog written by Chuck Vitello (, who holds a B.S. in Education and Biology from SUNY College at Buffalo and has over 15 years experience in both the education and corporate worlds.


Check back soon for my thoughts on the Phi Delta Kappan article “Developing a Billion Leaders” which closely ties into this very subject – starting leadership skills in Kindergarten all the way through 12th grade and beyond.