5 Attendance Requirements to Watch for in Online Programs

U.S. News | December 11, 2015 - In some situations, a distance learning program might still require a trip to campus. The notion of earning a degree or certificate entirely from the comfort of your couch is appealing to certain students. The recently updated Online Learning Consortium program definitions articulate that in online programs, all credits must be offered fully online, without students needing to show up anywhere in person. 

While this remains a reality at some institutions, certain programs may require one-time or periodic student attendance. Before enrolling in a far away degree program, here are five attendance situations you might encounter..

1. Program orientation: Some programs that are designated and advertised as fully online still require an on-campus orientation. This requirement may not be advertised, so it is wise to inquire about such expectations prior to committing to a degree program if travel is prohibitive.

[Here's why online students should bother with orientation.]

2. Final program requirements: Many online programs have final degree requirements, and some necessitate that students attend campus. Such requirements may include an oral dissertation defense, final project presentation or other such summative experience.

3. Student identity verification: This has remained a hot-button issue affecting all online programs. The Higher Learning Commission policies required by federal regulations state that online programs must have processes in place to verify that the student who registers for a course is the same one who participates in and completes the course.  Some online programs have found electronic means to address these requirements, but other programs feel the best way to verify student identity is to meet the student.

[Ask five questions about student services in online programs.]

4. Testing: With increased state and federal training and testing requirements in certain credentialed disciplines, students in online programs are increasingly being required to sit for programmatic training or testing.

For example, the New York State Education Department recently mandated six hours of Dignity for All Students Act training in harassment, bullying, cyberbullying ​and discrimination for all certified teachers. The only locations offering training are in New York State, with no online option. Any online students living outside New York who want to be certified there must travel to the statek to complete the training.

5. Laboratory components: There are some online programs that mandate the use of highly specialized equipment. Usually such programs are in the applied sciences or health care professions, although I recently ran across an online certificate in microbrewing that had a lab. While much of the program is deliverable online, lab requirements will often rely on students traveling to the campus for an intensive period.

[Overcome five obstacles of online learning classes.]

Online education has made great strides in the virtualization of many aspects of program requirements. Certain programs may still require a student to attend the campus, a testing or training center ​or some other specialized facility during the course of study. These requirements are not always immediately apparent.

The takeaway: Students should inquire with admissions representatives about attendance requirements prior to enrollment, ask recent program graduates about face-to-face requirements and budget for unexpected travel expenses as they make financial plans for a degree.