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Article by Mohan Babu


Online foreign degree: The ROI factor

Favoured by working professionals, distance education has been a lucrative niche segment in the educational industry. American varsities are now targeting Indian students, but is an online foreign degree really worth it, asks Mohan Babu

In my previous write-up, I had talked about admissions to universities in the US and also touched upon the topic of intricacies involved in acquiring student visas. Along with the admissions and visas, a major factor to be considered in making the decision of studying abroad is the cost of travel and stay. For some students who do not wish to travel to faraway lands, there is an alternative: distance education.

Distance education (or correspondence course) as an academic offering from top schools/universities has been around for some time now. Favoured by working professionals, distance education has been a small, albeit lucrative niche segment in the education industry. However, in the past few years, thanks to the ubiquity of e-learning tools and access to the Internet, universities and institutions in the West have been expanding their operations, either by franchising their courses or by offering online programmes.

Many schools in the US (as professional colleges are called), ranging from top-of-the-line institutions to private academies, have jumped onto the bandwagon, recognising the importance of distance education as a convenient revenue stream. Private institutions like the University of Phoenix go as far as to place banner advertisements in Web-portals of Indian newspapers and websites. Some universities are tying up with Indian institutions by offering their certifications to students who take up courses in local campuses. Most universities are trying to expand by using the power and convenience of the Internet by offering online courses.

The renewed marketing by educational institutions, especially in a down economy in the US, may be leading them to prospective students abroad. Indian students with their penchant for “foreign degrees” are an attractive destination for American universities. The universities are also targeting multinationals and Indian companies who want to educate their employees in the American system. For Indian companies, providing CBTs (computer based training) or financing distance-learning courses for employees is an attractive proposition since they experience very little downtime with employees partaking in learning at their own pace (outside work hours). The companies’ benefit by educating employees in a multicultural educational system, without incurring additional cost associated with foreign travel. Distance education is also especially attractive for students wanting to enhance their knowledge base without taking time off from their full-time jobs and careers.

Distance education and Web-based courses being offered by American universities does not come cheap. For instance, the University of Phoenix has published its course structure and fees online. For graduate degree courses leading to a Masters’ degree, it charges about $505 per credit hour. A credit hour is the units of course work akin to courses in a university. The school requires about 46 credit hours for an MBA and about 37 credit hours for an MS in technology. This translates to between $19,000 and $24,000 for a Masters’ degree from the university (i.e. between Rs 9 lakh and Rs 11.5 lakh).

This is similar to the tuition that a full-time student in

the US would pay for a degree from the university. Most regular universities that also offer distance educational programmes charge similar fees arguing that the course material and education offered in distance educational courses is similar to that offered in a regular classroom setting.

Would I recommend distance education offered by American universities, if so, to whom? Students in India, especially those with little exposure to an industry or those with little work experience hoping to get a “stamp of approval” from an American university, wishing to get a much-needed break in the job market on the basis of a certification alone will find themselves highly disillusioned. I am not sure if employers in Bangalore (or even Boston) are going to be impressed merely by a course or “graduation” from an American college, especially if the course was done online via a distance education programme. For such students, education, especially that acquired from a foreign institution thousands of miles away will be more valuable if acquired through a classroom setting with the interaction imbibed with fellow students and in-class lectures. It will be sad to see honest, hard working middle-class kids pawning their mother’s jewellery to pay some foreign university for educational courses and certifications that they cannot immediately market.

On the other hand, a multinational company in Mumbai or Delhi will benefit immensely from exposing its employees and emerging stars to American or British education by sponsoring their online courses to learn skills that they can use straight out of the box. For such a company, it will be doubly beneficial since employees could acquire education during their spare-time outside work hours with the knowledge being applied on the job. Productivity will be enhanced with very little disruption to the regular operations.

Education is a precious tool in the hands of practitioners and students and there is little doubt that education will help broaden horizons and expand one’s marketability. However, Indian students, parents, employers and others who are going to pay for education and courses being done from some distance learning institutions, will do well to do a thorough ROI (return on investment) and market analysis before embarking on such a venture. What I mean to imply is that before spending lakhs of rupees, it is better if students ensure that they have the wherewithal to market and make timely use of the knowledge acquired.




About the Author

  • A Bio and profile of the author, Mohan Babu, can be found at his homepage
  • Mohan has authored a book on Offshoring and Outsourcing (Publisher McGraw Hill, India), a link to which can be found here
  • Mohan has also authored an Online book on "Life in the US," available for free download.
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    For FAQ, Trivia and Information on Life in America, visit the Ask-A-Desi section

    ©Mohan Babu: All Rights Reserved 2005

    Mohan Babu is an international consultant trying to find the ‘sweet spot’ where IT meets business. E-mail: mohan He is also the author of a recent book on "Offshoring IT Services"

    All rights are reserved. Mohan Babu ("Author") hereby grants permission to use, copy and distribute this document for any NON-PROFIT purpose, provided that the article is used in its complete, UNMODIFIED form including both the above Copyright notice and this permission notice. Reproducing this article by any means, including (but not limited to) printing, copying existing prints, or publishing by electronic or other means, implies full agreement to the above non-profit-use clause. Exceptions to the above, such as including the article in a compendium to be sold for profit, are permitted only by EXPLICIT PRIOR WRITTEN CONSENT of Mohan Babu. 

    Disclaimer: This document represents the personal opinions of the Author, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Author's employer, nor anyone other than the Author. This Article was originally published in Express Computers


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