A recent survey by Gallup shows that opinions of online education vary as the US largely supports online ed's flexibility and price, but continues to feel uneasy about quality.
Overall, Americans find online education's flexibility appealing and think it's the the best value in higher education, with about a third saying that it's equal to a traditional classroom education. However, another third are critical of online ed, which they think is far below the standards of a classroom-based education.
The biggest obstacle for online education appears to be its acceptance in the job market. Nearly half of survey respondents said employers did consider online degrees as valuable, a third said employers viewed online degrees as equivalent, and just 13% said employers valued online ed more than a traditional path.
Despite support for online education's broad curricular options, Americans tend to think it provides less rigorous testing and grading and less qualified instructors than traditional, classroom-based education.
According to Lydia Saad, Brandon Busteed, and Mitchell Ogisi of Gallup, public perceptions about online education's ability to deliver education in a format most students can succeed in, as well as its ability to tailor instruction to the individual, are mixed, but tilt negatively.
A recent survey from the nonprofit organization Public Agenda found that majority of employers said they prefer applicants with traditional degrees from average universities over those with an online degree from a top university even though nearly the same amount said online programs require more discipline on the student's part.
A separate Gallup survey asking participants to rank the quality of education by different types of institutions (four-year colleges, two-year colleges, and Internet-based programs) and found that only 5 % viewed online programs as "excellent," while 18% said the quality is "poor," and 34% said those programs are "only fair" in terms of quality.
"If leaders in the field want online learning to have equal status with campus-based programs, they need to do more to demonstrate high standards for instruction, testing, and grading," the report says.
But Jeff Davidson, strategic initiatives manager of The Free Education Initiative at the Saylor Foundation, says this mindset is the result of a lack of awareness and familiarity with online education.
"I don't think there's any weight to the belief that quality suffers in online education any more so than with a lot of brick-and-mortars. We know brick-and-mortar degrees vary in quality, and that's the same with online," Davidson says. "Are there diploma mills online? Absolutely. But there are brick-and-mortars doing that as well."