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External degree

A college degree awarded to students who successfully complete a prescribed course of study off campus, usually online or by correspondence at an accredited college or university. Hundreds of community and four-year colleges and universities offer a range of external associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees with DISTANCE-LEARNING programs that require no class attendance or on-campus examinations. Although some require short on campus residencies of two weeks a semester, many have no residency requirements and allow students to take each course by simply studying the required texts and mailing required papers to the appropriate instructor. The course credits, degrees and transcripts under external degree programs are no different from those earned in conventional, on-campus programs and, if earned at accredited institutions, are valid at most other accredited institutions. External degrees differ from those offered by fraudulent “degree mills” which have no academic requirement and whose degrees are academically worthless.
An outgrowth of the ADULT EDUCATION movement, external degree programs began in New York and New Jersey in the early 1970s, with the establishment of Empire State College (1971) in Saratoga Springs, New York, and Thomas Edison State College in Trenton, New Jersey. Both are branches of their respective state universities and were established as external, degree-granting institutions for students too busy with jobs, families or other concerns to attend classes on traditional campuses. Housed in a simple office complex in Trenton, Edison has no campus, no classrooms, no library or any other facilities of a traditional college; yet it serves more than 10,000 students with an average age of just under 40, offering more than 130 courses leading to associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees in 100 areas of study. Its 300 “mentors” are faculty members of nearby traditional colleges who serve parttime, charting the direction of each course, determining reading and writing assignments, answering questions and evaluating student progress. All work can be done by e-mail or conventional mail, at the student’s own pace, with few time limits. As at Empire State, enrollees are given credit for “life experience,” whereby a student’s nonacademic accomplishments are evaluated and awarded college credits. Life-experience credits, however, are not routinely transferrable to other accredited institutions of higher education.
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