Do Online Degrees Yield Jobs?
October 19th, 2012
By Jacqueline Foster, Editor
A recent article in Time explored the question of whether or not earning an online degree is a good means of obtaining a job. As with many publications and online outlets who have explored this question, the answer still seems to be, "It depends."
The main concern is whether or not degrees earned online are of the same quality as those that would have been earned on campus. Some evidence shows that online degrees are slowly beginning to be perceived in a more positive light by hiring managers. The Time article highlighted a 2010 survey from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) in which human resource managers were asked whether it would make any difference who they hired if two job candidates had equal levels of experience and the only difference between the two was that one had earned a degree from an online program and one had earned a degree from a traditional program; more than half of responding HR managers said it wouldn’t make a difference. The survey also revealed that 79% of HR managers had hired someone with an online degree in the past year, which is significant. However, a majority of HR managers — 66% — also reported that online degrees were not viewed as favorably as those earned from a brick-and-mortar institution. See the SHRM study here.
An HR expert told Time that HR managers have a tendency toward caution, and may not be comfortable hiring people with degrees from universities they are not familiar with, or whose quality they are uncertain of, since name and brand recognition still play a big role when education is considered. However, HR managers who are more familiar with online education may have fewer qualms about hiring a candidate with an online degree. With name recognition being such a contributing factor, individuals may feel more comfortable exploring online degree options from schools with an established brand name and a long history of providing high-quality higher education, such as the University of Maryland, University of Nebraska, and University of Florida, all of which offer numerous online degree programs. Degrees earned online at these institutions and others often do not include the word "online" on the graduate’s diploma. Therefore, the issue of how the degree was earned may not be an issue at all in the job search.
Another factor lending a sense of legitimacy to online education is the fact that venerated institutions in the world of higher education — like Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and Princeton — are now offering online courses to students through programs like Coursera, edX, and Udacity, which created a buzz in recent months by offering free massive open online courses, or MOOCs, to anyone with an Internet connection. If these institutions can offer online courses at a high level of quality, why can’t other schools? This may cause HR managers to think less about the mode of delivery and more about the school that is offering the degree.
Another thing to consider when asking whether or not online degrees lead to employment is the fact that hiring managers are simply different. Some will be looking primarily at the applicant’s experience, and the education section of a resume is an afterthought or an added perk. Others will only note that the applicant has earned the required degree for the position, and check it off their list of requirements without putting any weight on where the degree was earned. Others, however, will do their research into any degree listed on the resume. Therefore, students who have decided to pursue a college education online would do well to choose an institution with both a solid reputation and regional accreditation to increase their chances of their degree being viewed as legitimate in the job market.