How Do Employers View an Online Degree?

onlineIncreasingly, online and distance education enable people to get the education they need to get better jobs or to get promotions in the jobs they already have. Online degrees are becoming more common, but how do employers view them?

What is the Difference Between Online and Distance Learning

Distance learning and online degree programs are not the same thing. Distance learning is the way many traditional schools offer courses of study through delivery of classes to remote locations where several students gather. The student can ask questions and participate in class discussions. Online degree programs are offered by schools that sometimes have no actual physical presence, and the student completes his course activity alone at his computer. Many traditional schools now offer both distance learning and online programs. Distance learning has always been accepted, but online programs are just now becoming accepted.

What Percentage of Employers View Online Degrees Negatively

A survey quoted in a CNN article found that 61 percent of employers interviewed said they were familiar with online or distance learning programs. 85 percent of those stated that online degrees are just as credible as campus-based programs. A 2009 study by Cleveland State University found that most Human Resource Managers had a negative perception of online degrees. Recently, however, that has changed. Favorable views of online education were reported by 75 percent of employers interviewed. The remaining 25 percent admitted that there were no conditions under which they would accept online degrees.

What Causes the Negative Perceptions

Most of the misperception can be traced to the diploma mills of the 1990s and early into this century. Online for-profit schools sprang up that would guarantee a degree to anyone who could pay for it. These schools were unaccredited and their degrees meant little more than the paper they were printed on. Many employers believed online students got only a fraction of the educational experience traditional students get because they could not ask questions and get timely responses. In addition, some believed online coursework is not as demanding.

Has That Perception Changed

Recent studies show that most employers view online degrees equally with degrees from traditional schools under three conditions.

  • The school granting the degree must be accredited. The Us News and World Report will only list accredited schools in their report of top bachelor and master programs in the US.
  • The school should have a brick-and-mortar campus. In a survey, only 42 percent of employers were accepting of online degrees from completely online schools as opposed to 92 percent favorability for online schools based in a traditional college.
  • The schools should have a recognizable brand. The name of the university or college must be one the employers recognize as reputable.

If all three of these criteria are met, there is virtually no difference in the credibility of the degree to most employers. Additionally, if a student gets a degree from an online program that includes some work in a traditional campus-based institution, the favorable perception of his degree soars.

As more students take advantage of the advantages of online degree programs, employer attitudes will become increasingly favorable. One employer offered this take on the issue during an interview: eventually, experience will outweigh the value of any degree, whether online or traditional.