Online education has been booming, and now probably will boom more, since the U.S. Congress is proposing to lift its requirement for 50 percent of courses to be held in physical space to qualify for federal student aid. Extensive lobbying by the for-profit online educational lobby helped produce this change, and high level connections didn't hurt:
Sally L. Stroup, the assistant secretary of education who is the top regulator overseeing higher education, is a former lobbyist for the University of Phoenix, the nation's largest for-profit college, with some 300,000 students.
Online Colleges Receive a Boost From Congress By SAM DILLON, New York Times, Published: March 1, 2006
The risk comes here:
Yet commercial higher education continues to have a checkered record, particularly for aggressive recruitment and marketing. The Department of Education's inspector general, John P. Higgins Jr., testified in May that 74 percent of his fraud cases involved for-profit schools.
The article didn't say what percentage of online degrees involved fraud; one would guess it's a small percent.
A related risk that I've heard some executives complain about is that online education doesn't provide the socialization for which college is famous. But of course we've heard that about everything online from electronic mail to IM to World of Warcraft, and we've seen that online communications, while indeed lacking in the face to face aspects, provide certain socialization advantages, such as time-shifting, global reach, and the ability to communicate with more people of more different types.
So I'd say the jury is still out as to whether online education is a risk or an opportunity. Like many things, it is probably both.
PS: Seen in a posting by Dave Hughes on dewayne-net.