Dr. Tonya Drake. Courtesy of the author.

Even before the challenges of COVID-19, demand for college degrees was elevated. Now, with businesses struggling and workers coping with a difficult job market, the patterns of previous economic downturns will likely occur again: people with degrees will be more likely to find or keep their jobs and job creation will accelerate in areas that require credentialed employees.

A thin, silver lining to this pandemic is nearly all institutions — including universities, community colleges, and tech schools — are expanding their online offerings. A portion of those programs is temporarily online until it’s safe to resume in-person instruction. Meanwhile, others will remain online, a signal of the modality’s emerging position in modern culture.

In short, options exist to fit almost any lifestyle and achieve any objective. The following are the top factors to consider when choosing the right online degree program:

1. Is the program accredited? Accreditation is third-party approval ensuring a program meets precise criteria for quality. It garners respect from employers and helps students receive financial aid or transfer credits to other schools.

2. How much will it cost? Quality does not have to cost a lot. No matter the program, all students should explore financial aid options. And those who must borrow money to cover tuition should do so responsibly.

3. How quickly can I graduate? Many schools’ policies allow students to learn and progress faster. Answering these questions will inform how quickly a student may graduate:

How much can I transfer from my previous college experience? Many schools accept previous college coursework, even if you did not graduate.

Can I leverage my work experience in earning my degree? Competency-based programs allow students to apply what they already know to accelerate toward graduation.

Will I have faculty support along the way? Active and engaged faculty can have a huge impact on student success.

4. Will this online degree be worth it? The average income of graduates with a bachelor’s degree is nearly 75 percent higher than workers with only a high school diploma.

About 70 percent of Washington jobs require some form of postsecondary education. With the right insight, online programs can help individuals get the credentials they need and contribute to the state’s economic recovery.

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Dr. Tonya Drake is the Chancellor and Regional Vice President Northwest for WGU Washington.