First, in this day and time, who knows? It may be better. It may be worse, but it is an important topic and there is a nice piece in The Atlantic by someone who attended Harvard’s Extension School. http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/09/did-i-really-go-to-harvard-if-i-got-my-degree-taking-online-classes/279644/
I wanted to add my experience to the discussion. I hope it will help inform people. Here is what I wrote.
From everything I see here, it appears that Harvard offers a high standard of education in HES. I would be very careful extrapolating that to other schools, highly ranked, or not. I taught in one of these programs and here are my observations.
(1) The classes are not necessarily taught by regular faculty. In my department, they hardly ever were.
(2) The people hired to teach them are not necessarily picked by teaching effectiveness. One professor gave out almost all A’s in Calculus I and II, and when I got them they were very poorly educated – but, of course, they didn’t know this. There are other examples.
(3) If the course doesn’t get enough students, the professor’s pay for the course is reduced.
(4) BUT, the Dean of the evening program cared about education and strongly supported anyone who wanted to really teach, which sometimes causes dissatisfaction from students. Thus, I could teach a calculus course which was transferrable to schools like MIT, Princeton, Yale, etc…(I was told that the regular day courses at my school weren’t.)
(5) The night courses were not always transferable to the day school – even though (4) above makes that sound like some kind of oxymoron or something.
The takeaway: Be careful, but who knows in today’s world of higher education.”