Statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau reveal that a person who holds a graduate or master’s degree can expect to earn about $55,000 per year. People holding a bachelor’s degree can expect to earn around $46,000 per year. The average benefit for holding a graduate degree can raise a person’s income about $225,000 over a period of 25 years. This rate of return clearly shows that it is a solid investment to pursue a online graduate degree. Online education graduate degrees enable busy adults to attain a higher education while still maintaining employment to earn a living.Requirements to Pursue an Online Education Graduate Degree – To earn a graduate degree online, students need to be well-organized self starters who can manage their time and review course material independently. Online students also need full access to a computer with a 56 kbps modem or better, with Internet service and virus protection. Students attending school online should be able to use email and basic Internet functions to communicate with professors and take online exams. Online education graduate degree programs are delivered in a web-based format that is available 24 hours a day for the convenience of working students seeking success.Validity of Online Education. In the 1994 study of R. Clark, and in the Pew Learning and Technology Study ‘Innovations in Online Learning’ by Carol Twigg in 2001, they concluded that if the online course was designed with the same rigor as one taught in a face-to-face environment, the outcome is likely to be equivalent. Further, the standards for undergraduate education are defined by the Seven Principles developed by Chickering & Gamson (1991). These seven principles were updated to show how to implement these ideals in online education (Chickering & Ehrmann; Graham, et al. 2001). In 2002, the Ohio Learning Task Force issued a report that recommended principles derived from Chickering & Gamson were to be used to design, approve, assess and review all courses, whether in person, or online, or a blend of both. The Seven Principles a) encourage contact between students and faculty; b) encourage active learning; c) encourage cooperation between students; d) give feedback promptly; e) communicates high expectations; f) emphasizes time on task; and g) respects diverse ways of learning and talents. Therefore, online education graduate degrees follow the same criteria as those earned at a physical college campus, so they are equally viable.Cost of Online Education. Getting an online education graduate degree can be more affordable than attending a physical college campus because there are no costs for transportation or housing. In 2004, an online resource site took a sample size of 120 online master’s degree programs and found that the cost for education could range from $2,760 to $110,000 for an accredited degree. However, graduate degree students can explore several options for tuition assistance, including:Tuition Reimbursement. The National Center for Education Statistics found that almost 20 percent of all graduate students receive aid from their employers. Potential online education graduate degree students should consult with the human resources director of their company about tuition reimbursement programs and company scholarships they may qualify for.Labor Unions. Over 60 labor unions, through 38,000 national chapters, offer $4 million dollars in educational financial aid. If a student belongs to a union, the web site at http://www.aflcio.org can offer leads to Union-Sponsored Scholarships and Financial Aid.Financial Aid. There is even state and government financial aid available for certain distance learning programs. The free government aid directory at http://www.ed.gov/programs can help students locate resource centers in their state and offer information about financial assistance to pay for college.Loans. There are government-backed Stafford student loans that typically carry the lowest interest rate. For example, the interest rate for a Stafford education loan in 2003 was only 3.42 percent. Students seeking Stafford loans should consult the free annual publication, the Student Guide to Financial Aid. Private student loans are also offered through finance companies such as KeyBank or Citibank, but they usually charge higher interest rates and require students to pass a credit check.Tax benefits. There are also significant tax benefits available to online education graduate degree program students. Interest on student loans may be tax deductible during the first 60 months of the period to pay them back. Eligibility for this tax benefit can be determined by checking the IRS Publication 970: Tax Credits for Higher Education. Further, under the Lifetime Learning Credit, students may be eligible to deduct up to 20 percent of the first $10,000 of graduate tuition from federal taxes. Also, some or all tuition expenses may be deducted if an employer requires additional education to maintain the student’s current professional status. Students can review IRS Publication 970 for guidelines, or consult with an accountant to see what portion of tuition for college can be deducted from their taxes.When a potential student considers the ease of earning an online education graduate degree, along with the improved financial status as a result of attaining this degree, it is clearly a wise decision to pursue virtual learning.