Online Education for Young Entrepreneurs: Worth Your Time?
Kersten Kelly never thought she’d get her MBA online. It was only when the 25-year-old owner of a resume-reviewing service, TheResumeReviewer.com, and regional sales manager for a private-label biscuit company, got a job that required her to relocate to a remote part of the country that pursuing an online MBA made sense.
“I wanted to enhance my theoretical skills while continuing to build my in-field experience,” says Kelly who got her MBA from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, which is located in Bloomington, Ind., four hours away from where she lived in South Bend, Ind. “I felt that if I took time off from work just to pursue my MBA I would have fallen behind on the hands-on experience.”
Kelly is just one of the many young entrepreneurs opting to learn online, tackling business topics via such high-tech teaching methods as video lessons and embedded quizzes. It’s an ever-evolving world with an increasing array of options, from CodeAcademy, Skillshare and Coursera to Harvard/MIT, which just entered the arena with edX , a certificate program that will offer free online courses from both universities.
Being able to learn wherever you are without having to relocate for your degree is a definite plus, says Greg Zerovnik, director of MBA programs at Touro University Worldwide, an online university in Westlake Village, Calif., which prides itself on its small classes and one-on-one contact between instructors and students. "An online education means your classroom is wherever you are," he says.
Despite the growing number of options, is an online education a smart choice? For many entrepreneurs, it just might be. The reason is, you don't have to give up your day job -- or your business -- to take classes, says Jeremy Johnson, co-founder of 2tor, a Landover, Md.,-based company that partners with higher-education institutions to deliver online degree programs. Otherwise, he says, "an entrepreneur has to consider the lost revenue of leaving his or her startup for two years."
In addition to keeping young entrepreneurs' momentum going, the quality of online offerings has become vastly more competitive, as technology innovations have made real-time communication and learning possible. And it's become more accepted among employers to hire people with degrees from online programs.
A 2010 survey from the Society for Human Resource Management, showed that nearly 8 in 10 employers reported hiring an applicant who had an online degree that year and nearly 9 in 10 said that online degrees are looked at more favorably than in previous years.
Still, one of the main benefits young entrepreneurs cite for going back to school is the connections they make. Though losing this benefit is a worthy concern, it may be overblown.
Instead of a localized set of students to bond with and bounce ideas off of, online students suggest their networks aren't limited to any one geographic region. Indeed, some argue they receive a more comprehensive networking experience, as they can connect with students and professors overseas and down the street.
"The network I was able to build across the entire world has helped me many times already," Kelly says. "There are people that I studied with who were from Japan, China, Korea and India and I keep in contact with them on a fairly regular basis. This has helped my knowledge and understanding of the global economy."
In the end, the most important elements to consider when picking an online degree program are the courses and resources provided. "Ask yourself if [a program] fits your idea of what you think you need to advance your career or company," Zerovnik says.
Then, make sure your online degree will be competitive with those from other online and offline programs. "Look for the same standards of admissions you’d have at an on-campus program," Johnson says. "After all, you [may not] want to go to a place where just because you apply means you’re automatically accepted," he says.
Or, maybe you do? Tell us about your philosophy toward online education in the comments section below.
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Lambeth Hochwald is a freelance journalist, whose stories have appeared in magazines such as Coastal Living, O The Oprah Magazine, Real Simple and Redbook. She is also an adjunct professor at NYU's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.