Students can pursue network-related degrees entirely online. Associate's and bachelor's degree programs are most common, and a few schools offer distance learning master's programs in telecommunications management. Earning an associate's degree in computer networking or a bachelor's degree in network security often prepares students for certification through third-party vendors, like Cisco or CompTIA. While certification isn't always required by employers of information technology (IT) professionals, it's often preferred.
Associate's Degree in Computer Networking
At the associate's degree level, students study small network setups, ranging in size from 50-100 devices. This program is great for those seeking entry into the growing field of data networking, but available online schools are generally limited to for-profit institutions.
Program Information and Requirements
Ranging in length from 64-88 credits, these online associate's degree programs cover topics in technology, English and mathematics. Entry is usually open to anyone with a high school diploma and a desire to learn networking.
Online course delivery is done through a combination of e-mail, forums and video lectures. Many schools have also begun to virtualize their equipment labs, allowing students to perform complex, real-world configurations on physical equipment through a virtual interface.
Entry-level, online programs often touch upon a myriad of network-related topics, ranging from security to telephony. All of this is built on a general education core that gives students a rounded education.
Introduction to Website Design
This course gives students a basic overview of program and Internet technologies through the creation of websites. Topics include hypertext markup language (HTML) and cascading style sheets (CSS).
Introduction to Local Area Networks
Local Area Networks (LANs) are small groups of interconnected computers within a single business or organization. This course covers the concepts involved in LAN design, installation and maintenance. Topics include network architecture, topology configurations and basic cabling.
This course covers the basic configuration of a router, one of the most fundamental components to global communication. Topics cover routing protocols, such as RIP or IGRP and configuration commands.
Bachelor's Degree in Network Security
Bachelor's degrees often help networking professionals specialize in a particular area or move into a management position. Though many networking specialties exist, security is one area that's on the rise, requiring students to have a blend of industry credentials and undergraduate education.
Program Information and Requirements
A bachelor's-level program in network security may require students to achieve high scores on mathematics entrance exams. Some colleges also require a phone interview with an admissions representative before finalizing enrollment. Once matriculated, the program requires at least 120 credits for graduation. Online delivery allows students to interact with classmates and professors in an asynchronous manner, but test and homework deadlines follow a traditional schedule. Interaction and homework delivery occurs through a blend of online forums, e-mail and content management systems, such as Blackboard.
Network security curricula look at data management and security protocols, in addition to a broad, general education core. Topics deviate from the tersely technical to delve into topics such as ethical behavior in forensics.
Computers and Network Security
Often covered in both an advanced and introductory course, lessons in computer and network security give students the hands-on knowledge for configuring security networks. Students learn how to implement and test security settings, in addition to the latest industry practices.
This course introduces students to the methods used in securing digital evidence to be used in criminal court and other legal proceedings. Topics cover the proper handling of evidence, extraction techniques and ethics.
Master's Degree in Telecommunications Management
At the master's level, many networking experts seek a master's degree in business administration in order to transition into management; however, a telecommunications management degree may also represent the highest levels of technical expertise. Telecommunications focuses on how high-level infrastructure devices communicate to move large volumes of data.
Program Information and Requirements
The online master's degree curriculum is a highly technical program, which entails approximately 40 credits of instruction. The curriculum is very similar to on-campus offerings, with some schools requiring that online students live at least 50 miles from the physical campus. These online programs can be offered as either a Master of Science or Master of Engineering.
Online delivery of these courses occurs through forums, e-mail and digital classroom systems such as ANGEL. Emphasis is generally placed on establishing strong communication between students and professors, with some online programs including an extra course on technology orientation.
The telecommunications curriculum at the graduate level is highly technical, with only a few additional courses in business and research. Some programs even specialize in specific areas of telecommunications management, such as broadband systems, wireless networks and telecommunications policy.
As cellular and other radio-based communication systems become more ubiquitous, students must be prepared to better understand their overall construction. This course covers a broad range of wireless technologies, from 3G and CDMA cellular technologies, to 802.11g and WiMax network standards.
This graduate-level course looks at the impact that various government and industry regulations have on the effective development of long-range telecommunications systems. Topics covered include spectrum licensing, federal communications laws and spectrum management.
Telecommunications Finance and Accounting
With significant overhead costs, but large potential gains, managing digital infrastructure investments has become an important part of network management. This course looks closely at the impact of telecommunications investments versus the perceived gain, in order to make competitive financial decisions.
Many who graduate from an online associate's degree program won't go directly into networking, but rather find positions as computer user support specialists. This role gives graduates the opportunity to gain hands-on knowledge and experience in working with end-users. According the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), computer user support specialists earned a median salary of $48,620 in May 2015 (www.bls.gov).
According to the BLS, the median salary for information security analysts was $90,120 in 2015. Available careers for information security analysts vary, from technical support positions to consulting and even management positions. The salaries for these positions can fluctuate significantly.
Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that technical roles in the networking industry rarely require a master's degree. Some specialty technologies, such as emerging wireless standards, may require a high level of theoretical knowledge found only at the graduate level; however, most networking professionals get their master's degree in order to affect their transition into management.
Continuing Education Information
In addition to an associate's degree, many students are prepared to take and pass industry certification exams. A large proportion of networking programs integrate the Cisco Networking Academies instruction, four semester-long courses that prepare students to take the Cisco Certified Networking Associate (CCNA) exam.
In addition to a bachelor's degree, employed security professionals can attempt to take the Computer Information System Security Professional examination (CISSP). This is one of the most highly regarded security certifications, requiring large amounts of study and the sponsorship of an employer with a large security practice.
Associate's, bachelor's and master's degree programs in computer networking are all available in a flexible, online format. These programs largely focus on areas of study such as telecommunications policy, local area networks (LAN), router administration, network security and computer forensics.