Online education has been mired in controversy since it began. Degree programs available online have long been perceived to be of lower value than colleges and universities that deliver education the traditional way. Both the perception and quality of online education has improved significantly in the last few years, according to a new report.

Even though today’s students spent their teenage years surrounded by technological innovation and and are now arriving on college campuses more connected to the technological world than ever before, some faculty, staff, parents and industry experts remain uneasy about online education.

As students thrive online and become more comfortable learning in a less traditional classroom environment they are increasingly drawn to online degree programs, according to 2U, the report’s author. Major traditional colleges are taking note. Some of the top online programs in the country are not from online-only colleges but instead just a different delivery method offered from established schools.

The Landover, Md.-based provider of online learning tools, released its second annual online higher education “Impact Report” Tuesday in an effort to debunk many of the myths concerning the outcomes achieved through online education. The company used data from its own history to offer a first-hand look at the meaningful impact online education is having on students.

“The preconceived notions about online education are often quite negative. Our new Impact Report strives to shatter those preconceived notions, offering proof that online degree programs are having a positive effect on students, faculty and institutions,” said 2U CEO and co-founder Chip Paucek in a statement. “Innovations in technology and content delivery are dramatically changing the world of online education, allowing for a learning experience that is just as engaging as the traditional classroom.”

The key findings of the report are:

1.) Online degree programs can actually be equal to classroom degree programs. Students enrolled in top online programs earn the same degree as their on-campus counterparts, with the curriculum and program name being the same both on- and off-campus. Increasingly the same professors are also developing and teaching the courses.

2.) According to the report, 90 percent of the 1,241 faculty members teaching 2U-enabled programs believe that the quality of the online courses for credit is better than or the same as in-person courses when it comes to providing the necessary content to meet learning objectives. Faculty are buying into the online education idea.

3.) Online degree programs don’t let engagement fall to the wayside. Distance education used to deprive students of key collaboration and interactivity. The interactive, live classes taught in a modern “Brady Bunch”-style virtual classroom allow professors and students to work together even when they’re hundreds of miles apart. Building relationships and networking is all made easy online, as providers like 2U put a premium on personal connections. Students can now also interact seamlessly via social networks which puts them in very close touch despite being far away from each other.

4.) The satisfaction measure of 2U’s product, for both students and faculty, is 68% which is higher than that of tech industry heavyweights Amazon (65 percent), iPad (67 percent) and Netflix (54 percent). Part of the reason for the rave reviews may be because the average class size is made up of just 11 students. Compared to traditional lectures with hundreds of students and tutorials with dozens in an online environment each student gets the attention they need yet the virtual classroom isn’t overwhelming for professors.

5.) Online students are now supported by their universities just as much as their on-campus counterparts – sometimes even more. They receive 24/7 tech support and help with field placement – both via campus services and also 2U itself. As of December 31, 2014, the company had facilitated a total of 20,493 successful student field placements.

6.) Online programs now produce positive outcomes. In 2014, 1,422 students graduated from 2U-enabled programs. Failure to complete distance learning has always been a major hurdle. With more engagement and better support in modern online degree programs the outcomes are almost as positive as classroom based programs.

The proof of how far online degrees have come is in the data: 74 percent of business school students at UNC enrolled in online programs received a job change or promotion while enrolled in the program.

At the University of Southern California School of Social Work there was an increase of more than 124 percent of degrees conferred from 2008-2013, when they made the switch to modern online learning systems like 2U. The results speak for themselves – online degree programs, while not for everyone, work. And work well.

We’re going to be running a series of stories detailing the better schools and why they work in the coming days so stay tuned.

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