Advance Your Career: Blog

Advance Your Career: Blog

How online degrees are making graduate school more affordable

taking an online course

Online master’s programs often receive praise for their convenience, but another perk—affordability—is just as valuable to many students. PBS NewsHour’s Hari Sreenivasan explored this topic in a recent segment.

Citing a 2016 Harvard study, Sreenivasan noted that a new type of graduate student has emerged since top-ranked programs started offering traditional degrees for less money than their face-to-face competitors. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, 16 professional master’s programs offer convenience, world-class instruction, and in-demand skills in a completely online environment—often at a lower price than comparable face-to-face programs elsewhere.

For example, UW-Madison’s online Engineering Management master’s degree currently costs $48,000. At other schools, face-to-face programs in this specialty can cost an additional $10,000 or more.

Meeting the needs of diverse learners

Charles Isbell, a Georgia Tech dean Sreenivasan interviewed, says price is a key component of the accessibility some people seek in a grad program. The most budget-friendly programs tend to live online, which makes them even easier to access. For instance, at UW-Madison, online students can learn from nearly anywhere, at times that suit their schedules. This makes online programs a good fit for time-strapped professionals, parents, students in other parts of the world, and others unable to visit campus regularly.

Isbell says a similar blend of flexibility and accessibility helps his school’s online programs attract a diverse population.

“We see that we can get many more people who don’t look like the traditional folks we have coming [to] campus,” he says.

The diversity of online classrooms goes beyond age and ZIP code. Sreenivasan says there are almost twice as many students of color learning online as there are on campuses. In addition to enhancing the learning experience, diversity can benefit the workforce economically and help underrepresented groups gain traction there.

Employers pay, employees stay

The allure of online degrees grows if students have access to employer-provided benefits such as education stipends and tuition reimbursement. When an employer will pay for all of an online master’s but only a fraction of a traditional one, the choice is clear. It’s also a reason to stay with that employer.

Eboni Bell, an AT&T employee who spoke with Sreenivasan, used her knowledge about employee benefits to guide her grad-school strategy.

“I knew I wanted to get my master’s, and I also knew that I wanted to have a company that paid for it, because I didn’t want to go into even more student loan debt,” she told him.

With the average student-loan debt for a bachelor’s degree approaching $40,000, this combination—an affordable program and an employer footing the bill—could be the ticket to financial freedom for many.

For more information about UW-Madison’s professional graduate programs, including online degrees, see here.