A decade ago, the University of Phoenix awarded 72 online education degrees. In ten years, that number skyrocketed to 5,976. Western Governors University didn’t award any education degrees in 2001. Last year, the online university — based in Utah but with a state school here in Indiana — awarded nearly 2,000.
The pace at which online education is growing outstrips even the largest teachers colleges, writes Greg Toppo and Christopher Schnaars for USA Today:
By contrast, Arizona State University, one of the USA’s largest traditional education schools, awarded 2,075 degrees, most of them on campus. Columbia University’s Teachers College awarded 1,345 degrees.
Traditional colleges still produce most of the bachelor’s degrees in teaching — ASU topped the list with 979 bachelor’s degrees in 2011. But online schools such as Phoenix and Walden University awarded thousands more master’s degrees than even the top traditional schools, all of which are pushing to offer online coursework. Every one of the top 10 now offers an online education credential.
Many online schools are fully accredited and offer flexibility that brick-and-mortar universities can’t. Allison Barber, chancellor of the non-profit Western Governors University Indiana, told StateImpact in June that students seeking teaching degrees online have to complete the same requirements as their peers in more traditional programs.
“Everything that can be online is online, but when you need student teaching, you need to go into the classroom,” says Barber. “Our students still go into the classroom.”
But unlike WGU, most online schools are for-profit and have come under fire in recent weeks after the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee released the results of an in-depth study that found students were more likely to drop out and default on their loans than if they’d attended a not-for-profit school.
Writing for the National Council on Teacher Quality’s Pretty Darn Quick blog, Sarah Brody asks if online education degrees are the next bubble. She writes it’s no surprise that more teachers are getting master’s degrees online because there are financial incentives for educators who continue their education.
The NCTQ advocates for better evaluations that provide feedback teachers can use to improve their practice. Brody praised states like Indiana that have passed legislation requiring districts to weigh performance more heavily than degree attainment in their salary schedules. She writes:
What should really be troubling the public is not how teachers are earning these advanced degrees, but the fact that they are being encouraged to do so at all. Time and time again, research has shown that master’s degrees in education, whether earned online or on campus, have absolutely no impact on how well teachers teach. Why not use the money spent incentivizing teachers to get these degrees to pay effective teachers more?
It’s important to note teachers aren’t just getting online degrees from virtual universities. Many brick-and-mortar schools also offer online education degrees.