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Online Classes

Updated on May 10, 2020

How do you Find the Best Online Classes?

Most of the information you want to find to determine which online schools are the best is hidden. This article shows which information is important, where to find it, and what is the value of an online degree.

Many of these schools know that many of those who start, will not finish. Online education can be daunting. Your dorm roommate is not there to remind you of the writing criteria for Professor Reynold's psych class. There is no group-study and pizza next Friday, either.

But, online classes can benefit many people. Those working hard and paying the rent, those who have absolutely no desire to return to campus, stay-at-home parents, and others can fit asynchronous classes into their schedule. An asynchronous class is the format for most online schooling: log in when you want. The work can be performed when you are available. But, there are hard deadlines just like in all programs of education.

So, with a go-ahead to learn, how do you find the best online classes?

Present Value of an Online Class

First, let's calculate what the new degree will earn you: If you are the average age of an online degree student in 2009, you are 25 years-old. If you earn your degree in 2.5 years from now, and work to age 67 and a half, you will work 40 years. So, let's compare the average income of a high school graduate and a bachelor's degree holder.

Let's examine two people, a woman and a man. Because national average pay differs between the sexes, this article will consider both and use data for whites. How much do you think the lifetime value is?


Financial Benefit of Bachelor's Degree

High School Avg Annual
Bachelor's Avg Annual
One Year Difference
40 Year Total Difference

Lifetime earnings difference by degree and gender. Source of data:

Value of Entering a Degree Program

If you start a program, and fail, you will have bills to pay. If you finish, you will (if you are exactly average) earn the higher income shown in the table above.

So, let's calculate the value of the option. The equation looks like this:

(% chance of success) x (value of success) + (% chance of failure) x (cost of failure)

I am going to use 2010 statistics for Ashford University because they are easy numbers to work. Here is why: the freshman retention rate is 36% and the graduation rate is 37%. For easy math, these will be considered the same at 36%. So, percent chance of success = 0.36 and percent chance of failure = 0.64

The value of success is the numbers above, less a discount for being an online degree. I just want to acknowledge the bias against online degrees, and reduce the lifetime earnings predicted by 20%. So, lifetime gain man-bachelor's = .8 x 1,561,280 = $1,249,024 and lifetime woman = .8 x 906,840 = $725,842. Again, this is to account for online degree bias. You may agree with me that it is ridiculous. However, minorities also earn less because of bias. It's reality.

Now, what is the cost of failure? One year of classes will cost approximately $10,500.

So, here is the math:


Value of opportunity = 0.36($1,249,024) + 0.64(-$10,500 x 4) = $422,769


Value of opportunity = 0.36($725,842) + 0.64(-$10,500 x 4) = $234,423

As you look at these equations, it is easy to see that the percentage who graduate from a school is very important. Next, take a look at the online programs with the best completion rates.

Special Note: If you are taking online classes with the intention of passing a professional examination like the certified public accountant exam or the bar exam, find the passing rate of the school in which you intend to matriculate. Be careful to observe that most of the data on passing for particular campuses is "first time passing rate". Many pass these exams on 2nd and 3rd attempts. And, even if a 4-year degree is earned, and the professional exam is not passed, a degree will still open other, higher paying opportunities like teaching, bookkeeping, and management.

The majority of people (73%) do not work in the field for which they studied.

Online Schools with the Best Completion Rates

The following table lists the schools with the highest graduation rates. Note that some of these schools have limited offerings. Full Sail University offers courses in entertainment media. Others are online arms of major campuses. Colorado State University has nearly 23,000 undergraduate students and about 7,000 graduate students.

The value of every degree will vary. Invest sufficient time into studying the value of every online program you consider. One of the most important will be the graduation rate of the program. If you do not finish, the effort is worth a lot less.

You can find the graduation rates for the great majority of colleges by using the "College Navigator" of the National Center for Education Statistics. A link is provided for you, below, in Resources.

Best Graduation Rates for Online Colleges

Graduation Rate
Full Sail University
Keiser University
Everglades University
Colorado State University
Florida Tech University
Champlain College
Ultimate Medical Academy
Fisher College
Ohio Christian University
Florida National College

Source: Online Education Database ( 2009 rankings

Bias against Online Education

There remains an irrational bias against online education. While 73% of hiring managers have hired online degree holders, there remain about a third who yet consider a "traditional" degree earned on campus to be superior.

Truth is, online degree holders are slightly superior to traditional degree holders.

Online degrees vs traditional degrees.

Graduation Rates at Campus Colleges & Universities

4-year Graduation Rate
6-year Graduation Rate
UC San Diego
UC Berkeley
McGill University (Canada)
UNC Chapel Hill

College Program Search Engines

Several sites now offer you the opportunity to set your criteria, and then compile a list of programs matching your requirements. The site is one of these. This one stands out because of the way programs are listed: by student review ranking. I examined my own degree: International Business from Ashford University. The program ranked 6th of 30 programs listed. Overall rating for Ashford: 4.4 of 5.0 stars. (Note: in 2020, the site is defunct.)

Note that the reviews are overall ratings, for every program of study. If you desire to review the exact program you are researching, you will need to scroll through the reviews to find those pertaining to your specific program.

I wrote an article titled Ashford University Review. I polled readers. I asked those who already completed a minimum of three classes to rate Ashford. The current average is 4.21 out of 5. The ratings have been increasing, a sign of ongoing improvements there. The best schools always improve. This shows AU will continue to be a respectable name in online education.

Free Online Classes

Yep. You heard this correctly. There are classes you can take online for free. And, they transfer (as long as your school accepts them, of course!). Many subjects are offered: Western Civ, English Composition, Principles of Marketing, Psychology and even Calculus.

Free online classes

Use Online Classes to Complete a Nursing Degree

Two-year nursing degree practiculums teach skills and knowledge required to perform the duties of nurse. This degree, and successfully passing state exams, earn the bearer the title of RN (registered nurse).

RNs can easily finish a four-year degree online. The remaining two years' of coursework are primarily general education. Some nurses, planning their career, take management and human resources courses. They want to prepare for promotions to management and other leadership jobs with higher pay and (sometimes) more regular hours.


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