This week’s “Daily Journal” guest columnist is David N. Bass, Associate Editor of Carolina Journal.
RALEIGH — Although online education is growing rapidly, many students still add distance learning to a base of traditional instruction. I earned my bachelor’s degree exclusively through the Internet, without setting foot in a college classroom.
My school of choice was Thomas Edison State College in Trenton, N.J. The college offers an impressive array of degrees — obtainable both online and in a traditional classroom — and is flexible in accepting credit hours from other institutions.
I decided early on that college was about getting a piece of paper, not an education. My goal wasn’t to become a better-rounded individual, or even to gain a greater understanding of my major area of study. Rather, it was to gain the educational credential that employers now use as a screening device for most jobs. My experience confirmed what I had expected — that post-secondary education today has only a lackluster ability to provide real value aside from that credential.
I don’t mean to say that I had no interest in studying or working hard in school. To the contrary, I found college easy and dull. I preferred to pursue my chief educational goal — learning the craft of journalism — through nonstandard methods. I learned far more from reading books independent of coursework, practicing writing, and sitting under the tutelage of professional journalists than I ever did through college classes.
Online learning fit nicely with my background. I was home-educated through the 12th grade and accustomed to learning outside the normal school atmosphere. By the time I was ready for college, self-motivated education was second nature.
I found that I learned far more through self-directed study and on-the-job experience than I did through college work. That’s why I made a point to intern and freelance as much as possible.
Such work had a twofold benefit. First, it allowed me to gain valuable journalistic experience and to develop contacts that eventually led to a full-time job. Second, it provided enough income to help me pay for a large portion of my education, ensuring that I graduated without the burden of student loans.
Similar to a regular college, part of the game of online education was learning what the professor valued and then providing it. Many times, instructors would supply that information in the syllabus. Other times, I had to figure which part of the course was weighted most heavily. I still put in plenty of effort, but it was strategic effort because I could afford to devote only so much time to my studies because of my job responsibilities.
As an added bonus to my online learning approach, I was hired full-time a year before graduation as an associate editor at the John Locke Foundation, so I didn’t flounder in a poor job market for months or years before landing an entry-level position. It helped that I had interned so much during my college years.
Distance education isn’t for everyone — nor is it an effortless option. In fact, for students who aren’t accustomed to self-motivation and lots of reading and writing, distance education might be more difficult. It all depends on a student’s skill set and which educational approach he or she prefers.
My experience with online learning taught me that a college degree can aid a career, but it’s no golden ticket to a dream job. Hard work, determination, and a willingness to think outside the box are what count in the long run.
That’s particularly true in a poor job market flooded with B.A.s. Increasingly, the undergraduate degree is becoming what a high school diploma used to be — a rite of passage, but little else.