Working adults have had limited practical opportunities to obtain a safety, health and environmental (SH&E) related bachelor's (BS) degree or master's (MS) degree from an accredited institution. However, there has been a proliferation of quality online learning degree options from accredited institutions over the last decade. According to a recent study of 2,200 colleges and universities published by the Sloan Consortium, "nearly 3.2 million students took at least one online course during the fall 2005 term", an 800,000 student increase from the previous year (Allen 1). In addition, the study showed that "more than 96% of the largest institutions (more than 15,000 total enrollments) had some online offerings" (Allen 2).
The quality of accredited online degrees has been found to be as good as or even better than the quality of traditional degree programs. The Sloan Consortium study found that 62% of academic leaders "rated online learning outcomes as the same or superior to those in face to face" (Allen 2). Gene Maeroff (2004, 30) with Columbia University stated that "online learning is no less legitimate than the actual classroom…it simply calls for a different mode of delivery." This is great news for working adults who want to obtain a degree from an accredited institution but have been unable to do so through traditional means.
There are many benefits from obtaining an accredited SH&E-related degree. In today's work environment of downsizing, rightsizing, acquisitions and mergers it is imperative that SH&E professionals manage their careers and ensure that they have the credentials to stay employed or find SH&E employment. It is becoming more difficult, if not almost impossible, to obtain an SH&E related job without an SH&E related degree. In most cases employers are looking for an SH&E related BS degree and some are requiring an MS degree or listing one as preferred. Many of those who have come into the SH&E field without an SH&E related degree have found it difficult to get promoted or make a job change without an SH&E related degree. In addition, many working SH&E professionals with an SH&E related BS degree have found that they need an MS degree to be considered for a promotion or move into a management position.
Salary levels of SH&E professionals are dependent upon many factors; however, salary surveys have consistently shown that education plays a significant role. The 2006 SH&E salary survey conducted by National Safety Council's Health + Safety magazine found that "19% of those with advanced degrees earned" $100,000 or greater and 5% earned over $150,000 as compared to only 1% and 0% respectively of those who had some college (Parker 45). In addition, the survey found that 50% of those with only a high school degree made less than $50,000 and the "highest percentage" of those with a four year degree made between $70,000 and $79,000 (Parker 45).