Harcourt General Inc.’s newly accredited online university has prompted questions from analysts about whether a Web-based school can capture the most critical element of a physical classroom – lively debate among students. However, some information technology professionals argue that there is little difference between getting a degree on campus or over the Web.

IT leaders applauded the Massachusetts Board of Education’s decision last week to accredit Harcourt Higher Education (HHE), a division of Chestnut Hill, Mass.-based publisher Harcourt General, saying the trend toward online education offers students a more convenient means of obtaining degrees.

“The more sources [of education] we have, the better,” said Robert Baker, a systems consultant at Emergent Information Technologies Inc. in Newport Beach, Calif.

Harcourt isn’t the only college offering online degrees. Accredited last year, Jones International University (JIU) – a division of JonesKnowledge.