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Do Employers Value Online Degrees?

September 05, 2008 By: Category: Choosing a College, Distance Online Learning

According to a recent study, 3.5 million students took at least one online course during the fall of 2006 and the rate of online enrollments is growing nearly eight times as fast as the overall higher education population. With all of these students and schools jumping on the online degree bandwagon, I can’t help but ask: Do employers really value online degrees?


Since I couldn’t find a statistical study to answer my question, I decided to interview a few people to find out.

I asked a number of reputable employers, human resource consultants and online graduates to answer the following:

Do you view job candidates with online degrees as more, less, or equally qualified as candidates with traditional degrees?

My conclusion? Well, it depends. Many people thought it depended on the profession and a relatively equal number of people viewed online graduates as less, equally or more qualified. I can’t tell you whether these opinions reflect those of the general public, and we could argue all day about whether these opinions are justified. However, the truth is – it doesn’t matter what the majority of the country thinks. Your degree is only as good as your potential employer thinks it is. So, if you are thinking of pursuing an online degree, you might want to take these opinions into consideration:

Opinion One: Online degree programs don’t offer the “complete” college experience.

I have heard this argument on several occasions. Although online programs offer much more human interaction than most people think, many feel online students do not have the opportunity to gain the same life experience as traditional college students. Joe Marich, president and owner of Marich Communications, a Public Relations agency in Los Angeles, was sifting through resumes when I interviewed him. His response definitely reflected this opinion:

“As a former instructor at California State University, a local Jr. College and a substitute high school teacher, candidates with on-line degrees have not had a “complete” learning experience, in my opinion.  While memorizing “book” information is important, there are other, less tangible elements to a college experience.”

Opinion Two: Online degree programs require more self-initiative

Contrary to Mr. Marich’s opinion, some employers, like the Human Resources Director from New Belgium Brewing, actually view online graduates as equally or more qualified because of the self-initiative required to complete an online degree:

“We view online graduates as equally qualified. Often times on-line degrees from reputable universities, for example Regis University, may be more of a challenge. They may require more reading, more purposeful on-line interaction and more self initiative.”

Paul Munoz, owner of HR Group Experts, a human resource consulting firm, has an opinion along similar lines:

“Unless you went to a Yale or Princeton, you just have a degree. That’s all employers care about. It’s harder to go online than to go to class, so if anyone can do that, I’m impressed.”

Opinion Three: You get what you give.

A few people brought up the important point that the quality of one’s degree is determined by the work one puts into it. Personally, I strongly agree with this and I thought Robin Chenoweth McShaffry, a recruiter with ten years experience and the founder of the Mary-Margaret Network, said this very well:

“My strong opinion is that a graduate only gets out of a program what he or she puts into it. Whether a candidate comes from an online university rather than a more traditional university is not the only indicator, and not necessarily the strongest indicator, of future success.”

Opinion Four: It depends on the school.

Many respondents actually felt the quality of the program was more important than whether the degree was completed online or not. Respondents like author Gary Dale Cearley listed the school’s reputation and accreditation as important factors when selecting job applicants:

“Now, I personally believe that learning is learning, so if someone applied for a job who had earned their degree through distance study, online study, etc., I wouldn’t think twice if I knew the school. However, knowing that a school is licensed and state approved would not be enough for me anymore. I would want to make sure the applicant’s degree was regionally accredited (more info on accreditation) or the equivalent.  Why?  Otherwise, how can I know that the degree wasn’t just bought?  There are tons of good programs out there, but the further one moves away from the traditional schools the more one has to “squeeze the tomato” before taking a bite.”

Opinion Five: Do what is right for you.

Kaplan University graduate, Sahra Hussain, claims that professionals have not discredited her degree while University of Phoenix graduate, Aspen Brooks, claimed that employers on the east coast tended to discredit her degree more than western employers have. Everyone seems to have different experiences and opinions. So where does this leave you?

My advice: Decide what is right for you.

Unfortunately I don’t have the statistical data to tell you how most employers think, but I can tell you this: It will depend on the employer. So instead of worrying about trends and opinions, you need to decide what is right for you. Does the convenience of an online degree outweigh the chance that an employer may discredit your diploma? Perhaps. Does the cost of not having a degree outweigh the chance that an employer might frown upon your alma mater? Absolutely.

Look deep inside yourself and determine what kind of program is right for you and base the decision on your needs, not a trend graph.

If you need more help, check out this post to find out whether you should consider an online program. Or, you can complete the myUsearch questionnaire to find out which online programs are right for you.

And don’t forget, tell us your opinion. What do you think? What has been your experience? Please comment.

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