The Growth of Online Engineering Degree Programs

If you are considering the benefits of pursuing an engineering degree through a 100% online or partially online program, you will need to consider your options and take into account your lifestyle, learning style, and optimal engineering degree concentration.

What was once considered an avenue of learning for older adults, the online path is skewing younger and younger as technology continues to be integrated into every aspect of our lives. Millennials in particular are taking online learning seriously, which is forcing colleges and universities across the nation to expand their programs options for students. The data backs this trend, according to a report by U.S. News and World Report: “Thirty-four percent of undergraduate online students were under the age of 25 this spring,‚Äč up from 25 percent in 2012.” source.

This huge leap in online population can be credited to programs that offer the same kind of education you would expect in the classroom. In fact, it takes a lot of self-discipline to succeed in an online environment. Studies have shown that students who learn online can be just as successful, and in some cases even more so than their classroom based counterparts.

Just look at the data from the Department of Education which includes the following statistics: The average online student tests in the 59th percentile while the average classroom student tests in the 50th percentile. What’s more, the savings can be huge. Online degrees can be up to 80 times cheaper than on-campus programs. The average online degree costs $30,000 while the average traditional degree can cost around $85,000.

ABET Accredited Online Engineering Degrees

When it comes to engineering programs, online learning has taken off, as you will see from some of the real-world examples below of programs that walk the walk, so to speak, in providing world-class education to distance based students. Additionally, accreditation is critical when choosing an online engineering program. Fortunately, accredited programs are more the norm, and credible state universities all over the U.S. offer programs that companies and government agencies recruit students from all the time.

When choosing an online engineering program, you will want to see if your program is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering Technology, also known as ABET. The mission of ABET is to make sure that engineering programs, including all online programs, meet the same quality of standards that their campus based counterparts are expected to meet. They want to be sure that graduates exit their programs with more than a degree. Their aim is to help graduates enter their chosen field of engineering with the skills to succeed in their careers. ABET is a national organization that is managed by more than 2,200 professionals from colleges and universities across the nation, as well as government and industry experts who are have the knowledge and experience to determine the credibility of online and campus engineering programs.

Choose from Partial Online & Hybrid Engineering Programs

There are several types of online programs, of which most are either a mix of online and campus based learning, or strictly delivered online. Online learning helps self-motivated students who live busy lives. Some programs, which require more research, lab and project based learning may require students to spend some time on campus while fulfilling their elective and some core requirements online.

The University of South Florida is one such school that offers students the option of mixing their online and campus learning or take 100% online engineering degree paths. Their Robotics Graduate Certificate program is offered at their Tampa campus with a mix of online courses. This program helps students prepare for work in robotics through curriculum that included mechatronics, kinematics, controls and programming. For Masters students, the offer three online programs in electrical, engineering management, and information technology.

Consider State Requirements for Engineering Graduates

One thing to consider before applying to online engineering courses is your state’s requirements for online learners. Like most areas of regulation, there can be a disparity between how state’s view accreditation of online or partially online programs. Be sure to check with each school to see if they can help you navigate your state’s requirements before proceeding with your application. However, with the growing options for online learners, it shouldn’t be hard for you to find a program in your preferred area of engineering that is recognized for accreditation by your state.

Asynchronous vs. Synchronous Engineering Courses Online

When choosing an online engineering program, you are probably thinking about the convenience that such a program will provide. While this may be an obvious benefit, you must understand the difference between asynchronous and synchronous coursework. With asynchronous work you can watch lectures, participate in communication, and perform other required coursework within a flexible time-frame for completion that is up to you. Many engineering courses work this way, with materials and videos available to stream and download at your convenience.

However, synchronous courses may be required, even for 100% online engineering students. These are lectures, labs, message/chat boards and other forms out coursework that you must log into and participate in at particular times, no matter what your personal schedule. While you may save the time and energy of getting ready for class and traveling to campus, you are still accountable for “showing up” on time and lending your voice to the class conversation.

Especially with group chats and lectures, every student can be expected to make at least one comment or give some level of input to be counted present for the online class. It’s not enough to log in and watch the conversation or listen, professors want to know you are fully engaged. This is one way online learning can hold engineering students more accountable for their work. When there are 30 students sitting in a classroom, a professor can’t reasonably call on everyone to ensure they chime in. With online dashboards, faculty can keep track of who is involved and who isn’t.

Online Delivery Systems for Engineering Students

Now let’s talk about the ways engineering students can receive the most innovative forms of learning technology through an online experience. The most pristine example of effective online engineering degree programs is the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. The video below shows you first-hand how their students and faculty have worked together to create a fully immersive experience for learners. This program is the model for how online learning can replace classrooms as the future for engineering students. When you watch the faculty and industry professionals discuss the quality of curriculum and the jaw-dropping delivery system, you can see why any student with a passion for engineering would make this their first choice for admission.

The leaders who designed this engineering online approach understand that it isn’t always practical to have the professionals who are leaders in engineering industries in the same cities as the students. They also realize that the integration of technology into our daily lives means students are much busier than they once were, and at the same time, new ways to teach students with technology is creating a paradigm shift towards online learning in engineering education that is impossible to stop. When you have the top minds collaborating and agreeing that online learning is the wave of the future, everyone else will follow – including the companies you will want to work for when you complete your degree.

In all the Viterbi online engineering programs, the students take the same exams and follow the same assessments that campus-based students take. What’s most impressive about their online programs is the degree to which they go to in order to create a virtual experience that immerses the online student into a classroom experience. If you watch the video about Viterbi, you can see they dedicate editors and camera operators to film the classes and put them online. They approach the filming of classes with the same professionalism that you would find in a major Hollywood film or television studio. They shoot multiple camera angles and ensure good lighting and sound techniques so students can see every necessary angle of the classroom experience. Students can even see extreme close-ups of professors notes as they talk through lectures.

Students can interact with live discussion boards and communicate with professors in real-time on the most high-tech dashboards. Although students may not be in the same classroom as their professors, when you witness the Viterbi online experience, you could argue that students have an opportunity to be even more engaged than they would in certain classroom settings. With online learning such as this, it’s impossible to hide in the back of the class.

Online students take tests at the same time students in class take them, except they arrive at testing centers which can be more conveniently located than campus. This is a factor in many online engineering programs to ensure students have some form of in-person accountability for the course requirements and curriculum objectives. There are many reasons why this program sets the bar for online engineering and is consistently ranked #1 in its class. Even if you your location or engineering concentration preference excludes you from applying, watch the video about their program so you have a barometer by which you can compare programs available to students in your area.

Online Engineering Degrees

Not every school requires students live within a certain radius of the campus or near testing centers. These colleges are great choices for students who can’t find programs located in their area, but have to learn online to balance work, life and education. John’s Hopkins University is one such example, and has been delivering online engineering classes since 2001, way before most schools integrated online into their curriculum. In fact, any qualifying student with access to the internet can take online courses, including international students.

Take a few moments to learn more about the engineering degree programs offered online through John’s Hopkins School of Engineering. One of the big benefits of their approach is the focus on asynchronous learning for students who have to juggle family and career responsibilities while furthering their education. Faculty review programs every year to ensure they stay focused on the latest innovations in each area of engineering, while remaining current on the best delivery methods for learning.


Career Potential for Online Engineering Graduates

As you can tell from the number of schools who offer top-notch online engineering programs, distance learning students can have the same earning potential that campus learners have. When students can raise their hands in a virtual class with just the touch of a button, and interact with their professors in real time, it’s easy to see we’ve come of the age where the quality of curriculum is far more important than the format.

According to Forbes, job growth from 2010-2014 was consistently in the double-digits in four areas of engineering: petroleum (30%), mining and geological (12%), biomedical and industrial engineers (10%), and industrial (10%) source.

There are online programs that can prepare you for these, and almost every other type of engineering role. In the past, when online schools and programs weren’t as trusted as they are today, salary potential was a big concern for potential students – just as quality was for prospective employers. But engineering degrees are considered the equivalent of campus degrees, and in some cases higher quality depending on the college where it was earned.

Now that you have taken an opportunity to gain an understanding of the current online engineering landscape for learners, your next move should be speaking with schools who offer programs that match with your professional aspirations.