… the HR Minion. Because even minions have opinions. And giggles.

What is your perception of online degrees?

So I’ve heard conversations around this issue for a while now, but the perceptions people have of online degrees seem mixed. Now, I’m not talking about diploma mills where for a couple thousand dollars anyone can get an MBA. Those are just crap. I’m talking about the Capella’s, the University of Phoenix’s, and the like. Online degrees from these sources are accredited and aren’t granted simply because you pay for them.

But would a recruiter consider them to be just as good as a more traditional degree? What does that accreditation really mean? Couldn’t you just as easily say that not all traditional schools are created equal as well? Does the convenience of an online degree come at a cost or is this an unfair stigma? In the end, unless you only hire grads from Ivy League schools, does it really matter where the degree comes from as long as it is “legitimate”? All I have to say, is that even degrees from the same school aren’t created equal.

Now, I’d like to open this question up to you, my dear readers. What’s your perception of an online degree? Hit me up in the comments with your thoughts!

25 Responses | Add your Own

  • 1 Rachel - I Hate HR :

    I want to take them seriously because there really is no reason not to but I can't. In my view they're probably worth 50% of a degree from a regular school.

  • 2 Kerry :

    My feeling is this:

    Not everyone has the opportunity to go to school in the traditional way. Some people have to work when they get out of high school (or even before) in order to eat. Some people get pregnant. Some people have parents or grandparents to take care of. There are any number of reasons that people didn't do the four-years-in-the-dorms experience.

    So when I hear managers knocking those online programs, I get annoyed, because sometimes (not always, but sometimes), the comments smack of snobbery. I mean, good for you that mom and dad were able to send you to [fill in your fancy school here]. Not everyone is so lucky.

    That said, I have had ample opportunity to be miffed about this, because about a third of the the hiring managers I've worked with have negative opinions of online programs. About a third don't have a strong opinion, and the other third think they're fine.

    One thing I'm learning is that it can depend on the school and the field. I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and I'm now looking at their master's in library science program, which is online. It seems to be well-respected, partly because it's coming from a traditional school, and partly because librarians are apparently more open-minded about this stuff than some of the managers with whom I've worked.

  • 3 Anonymous :

    Here's my two cents: they don't matter, they offer no value. Degree's in and of themselves are not indicators of success. In some fields, yes, they are mandatory to enter the profession, but in 99% of careers their is not clear link between a degree and profitability. That being said, if you are going to get a degree, then go to a physical school. What you learn in the classroom isn't nearly as important as what you learn outside of it in terms of socialization and interaction.

  • 4 fran melmed :

    i think we need to challenge our perceptions of online learning. particularly with advanced degrees pursued mid-career, online learning may be the only way for a professional to squeeze it in amid work and life. you might be interested in recent research finding that on average, students performed better via online learning than traditional classroom settings. http://bit.ly/OiMI7

  • 5 Bill :

    Disclaimer: I work in Higher Ed and have experience on both sides of this discussion. I currently work for an online university. I am not an instructor/professor.

    1. Not all schools are created equally.

    2. Not all accreditations are created equally.

    3. Academic freedom allowed can create a situation where learning is not equal across the school.

    The particular institution I work for takes accreditation, including specialized accreditation, very seriously and works hard to ensure we meet the requirements by leaps and bounds. Contrast this to other institutions I have worked at where it's done solely because it has to be and isn't taken nearly as seriously or with as much vigor. I suppose that's because brick and mortar has nothing to prove while online does.

    There are many questions from hiring managers about the quality of education provided but as time goes on and more people move into online (this is where MN is being pushed by the current governor) it will be viewed as the same. Change takes time. Just be thankful that at least some of the online institutions are doing what they can to make this transition properly.

  • 6 Steve Boese :

    I think the perception of these degrees is changing, and as more 'traditional' universities look to expand their online programs the perceived value of fully online degrees will rise. At my school you can complete a Master's in Human Resource Development completely online, ans some students do. I don't believe their degree, and its perceived value in the marketplace is any less valuable that students that complete the program in the traditional in-person manner. Certainly a great question.

  • 7 Mike :

    I look at online degrees more through the lense of the school that is offering the program. The big differentiator for me is whether the school is for or non profit. If it's a for profit entity, I have less respect for the program and degrees. As these schools focus intensely on profitability, corners are cut, services lack,and tuition fees are much higher. If it's a non-profit school, with a real campus that applies the same level of education online, I feel better about it.

    Also, I've taken some courses online, and I have to say that quality is a mixed bag. Some classes were ridiculously unchallenging and unproductive. Others I got more out of because challenging assignments and mandated particpation through online postings was required.

    I also think there is something to be said for the experiences and exposure to other perspectives that are more easily displayed in a traditional classroom setting. Group work and giving presentations is nearly non-existent in online programs and asking questions, or learning from the questions your classmates ask is more difficult to do in an online setting.

    So, yes, I do view online degrees as less desirable but with many variables that impact my final impression.

  • 8 tlcolson :

    I prefer the face-to-face interaction of a classroom, but I took several online classes while I was attending college at UNC-Wilmington. Does the fact that those classes were on online make them "invalid" classes? How would a hiring manager even know they were online?

    Military members, non-traditional students and working students all take advantage of the technology to get degrees.

    Its a license to think, unless its a "career specific" technical degree requiring hands on training. (I'm not sure I'm all about an online medical degree)

    It smacks of snobbery to me. I have 2 degrees, awarded when I was 30yo and had a kid in elementary school, I started at community college and got my degrees (3 if you count the AA) in three years, with honors.

    Are my degrees worth less because I didn't drink my way through my freshman year and sit in seminars with 300 other people?

    Personally, I think I learned more.

  • 9 Sabrina :

    I'm currently enrolled in online classes. The school is for profit, however they do have physical campuses and it's been around for many years. I'm doing the only option for several reasons. One, I want to get done faster, and accelerated programs are limited. Two, sitting in a class 4 hours a night after working 8 hours during the day does not appeal to me. Three, the only "real" colleges in my city are both in bad neighborhoods. And maybe a college student that has classes in daylight wouldn't mind but as someone who'd be there after dark, I do. I picked the school I'm going to because of it's reputation and because of it's legitimate accreditation. If an HR person doesn't think that it's good enough then I don't want to work for their snobby organization anyway. I think you'll lose out on a lot of good talent that way.

  • 10 Tim :

    I think it's interesting that people (or at least those who read blogs) are generally fine with doing business online, but the idea of getting an education online still bothers some.

    I'm currently in an online Master's program and I'm glad I chose to further my education this way. I went to a brick-and-mortar university for my undergrad, and I think that was the right choice for me at that time, but now that I'm working, own a home, etc. I don't have the flexibility I once did. Plus, going the online route allowed me to find a program that better fit my wants and needs, wheras with brick-and-mortar institutions, I would have been limited to what was in my immediated geographic area.

    It's true that not all online schools are of good quality, and going with an accredited school is very important (my company will only pay tuition reimbursement for accredited schools, but they are extremely supportive of online learning and have specifically advocated the ones mentioned in the original post). However, quality not only varies between schools, but as has been mentioned, it can vary tremendously within schools too. I'd even go so far as to say it can vary within the same degree program or class, depending on who teaches the section.

    I know too that a couple of reasons why my company is so supportive of employees pursuing this option is that 1) it requires them to be more independently motivated than they would probably have to be in a physical classroom, and 2) online work and collaboration will only become more and more important, so anything that helps people do that is a good thing.

  • 11 HR Minion :

    Rachel – Even if it's from an established school?

    Kerry – Good for you to go back for another degree!

    Anon – Do you think that socialization can come from other sources, just like home schooled children?

    Fran – Very interesting, thanks for the link!

    Bill – I agree, I think acceptance will come with time.

    Steve – Do you think people would view the degree differently if they knew it was obtained online?

    Mike – Would the school cause you to pick one candidate over the other?

    tlcolson – You mean you didn't want to spend your college years in drunken revelry?

    Sabrina – Good points, I didn't even think of the safety issue.

    Tim – I know in my experience not all degrees are equal, even from the same school.

    Wow, so many good comments! Thanks everyone!

  • 12 George Guajardo :

    This is a great discussion topic, but I am afraid it goes a bit deeper than on-line vs. physical.

    I have taught at various types of institutions, universities, colleges, and smaller for-profit academies. I can honestly say that the knowledge and skills acquired by students in these programs vary quite a bit. The reasons for this variability are many and complex.

    the bottom line is that a degree is a short-cut to thinking about a candidate's qualifications. A degree implies a certain skill level in reading, writing, reasoning, problem-solving etc. Why leave it to chance? We have the tools to assess these things more directly. Test your candidates, don't let the degree "speak for itself;" You never really know what it's telling you.

  • 13 HR Minion :

    George – Very good point, a candidate is more than their degree.

  • 14 Laurie :

    Okay, here's my online degree story.

    I had my make-up done in NYC because I wanted to look good for the mediabistro event. The guy who applied my make-up asked me about my career, my background, my degrees, and whatnot.

    In the middle of the conversation, he tells me, "I've done the make-up for many CEOs in this town. They want to look good before TV, town hall meetings, and corporate events. I do their make-up and wax them, too. Eyebrows. Ears. You know what I'm talking about."

    I'm like, okay, great. We're talking about hairy CEOs. This is awesome.

    Then he tells me, "One of my clients just invested money in an online degree program. He had to be talked into it, but the future of education is on the internet. He's sure of it. He invested a couple million bucks."

    I said, "Hey, wait a second. Is your client Jack Welch?"

    The make-up artist was like, "How did you know? Do you know everyone?"

    I'm like, "No, I don't know everyone. Welch was just in New Orleans talking about his online program."

    So here's my point: even the make-up artist knows that the future of education is online. Sitting in a classroom has a role in education, but it's a dying model.

    Also, I just wanted a reason to FINALLY tell that story. There you go. It's such a small world.

  • 15 HR Minion :

    Laurie – That is an awesome story!! I'm glad to give you an opportunity to tell it. 🙂

  • 16 adowling :

    I came over here this morning to make a comment on this but work got in the way.
    I just graduated with an online degree, yea me! I have an odd perspective. I graduated with a 3.9 GPA but I really don't feel like I worked hard for it. My husband says its because I already knew the material, sweet talker.
    I loved the online college, I much prefer to set my own schedule and do school work at 11pm on a Saturday night.
    Someone else said it better, its not the degree that matters but if they can do they work. I got my degree for the piece of paper and to mark off that check box on my application but I think its a good experience for anyone whether they do traditional college or online.

  • 17 Ted :

    Great question.

    I was lucky enough to talk to a group of crazy smart educators the other week and they said The University of Pheonix model is the future. I think their right…

  • 18 novice-hr :

    adowling, i share the same perspective as you. I'm one class away from my MBA and although my GPA is not as high as yours (it's a 3.7), I feel like I didn't have to work hard for it at all.

    I did both. I went to the U of M for my undergrad and I'm now doing the MBA program. For the MBA, i have the option of taking classes on campus or online. I took several classes on campus but later decided to finish the rest online. Honestly, I don't see the difference between the two. Other comments mentioned that classroom interaction is important but really, just because you're taking the class at site doesn't mean that you'll have that opportunity. For instance, almost all of my undergrad courses at the U of M consist of a big lecture hall full of 200 or more students. We would just go there for the lecture and leave. There's not much interaction either and if you have questions, it's the TAs that would be able to help you and not even the prof themselves. So overall, I think that it really depends more on the person's abilities rather than just online or not.

  • 19 Jody Skinner :

    Whatever the delivery method of the education, there's going to be a reputation attached to your school. Period. Either that's important to you, or it isn't. I happen to go to a brick-and-mortar graduate school with an HR program that's in the US Top 3. The school's reputation won't hurt me. Can't say the same for other schools. Plus, the HR community network my school extends to me is an even bigger boost in the job market than my classes themselves. What's wrong with that? I ain't a snob, I just evaluated my ROI. PS I'm a FT worker and mom.

  • 20 HR Minion :

    April – Congrats on graduating! I think it seemed easy because you are awesome. 🙂

    Ted – It does seem to be the way things are going.

    Novice HR – Good for you getting your MBA! I agree that I never felt the huge lecture classes ever afforded much in terms of interaction.

    Jody – Do you think that online schools will get better reputations as time goes by?

  • 21 perrik :

    One problem with asking this question is that there are two categories of online schools.

    Category 1 is the for-profit model. Some of these institutions offer classes in classrooms as well as online (like Strayer) and others are exclusively online (like Capella). Strayer, Univ of Phoenix, and Devry offered in-person classwork before moving to the online world. Yet when someone mentions "online degree" (with a sneer), they're usually referring to one of these schools that started off as brick & mortar.

    Category 2 is the traditional university that has moved online. They don't splash ads all over the internet or daytime television, and they don't print out their degrees with a caveat of "Warning: classes were taken online, so this degree doesn't really count." The syllabi are the same, the degree requirements are the same, but I can take my grad degree from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign or San Diego State University and there would be nothing on the transcript or diploma indicating that I never set foot on campus until graduation day.

    I would like to see more state and non-profit private universities not only expand their online offerings, but PUBLICIZE them! Did you know you could take a BS in mathematics from the University of Illinois-Springfield online? Or a BA in psychology from Penn State?

    If more people could associate the concept of online degrees with traditional universities, the stigma would fade considerably.

  • 22 perrik :

    BTW, I'm not knocking the for-profits – they were smart enough to fill the needs of working adults. I know two people who got their MBAs through the University of Phoenix, and they were pleased with the quality of instruction. It always comes down to the instructors, and when you're a for-profit with massive nationwide staffing needs, your students might not always get a premium learning experience.

    Then again, the worst college class I ever took was microeconomics at the University of Pennsylvania, a school rather well known for its economics department…

  • 23 Charles :

    I have a M.Ed. in Adult and Continuing Education from a traditional brick-and-mortar state school with a good reputation for their education department. A lot of what I studied was the educational quality of higher education for non-traditional students (i.e.; adults returning to school after being in the work force for many years) as well as the quality of many online schools such as the Univ. of Phoenix.

    With that in mind let me say the follwing:

    Hiring folks who have a bias against job candidates who have EARNED online degress should really get out of the hiring business. Your bias is truly ignorant.

    ANY degree, online or brick-and-mortar, can be good or bad. It depends on the institution and what the learner put into it.

    I would love to post a lot more about this; but, I think that Kerry (in comment #2) sums it up quite nicely:

    "Not everyone has the opportunity to go to school in the traditional way."

    Well said, Kerry.

    Someday, I'll sit down and explain how much better an online degree (even the for-profit schools) can be over a traditional brick-and-mortar school.

  • 24 HR Minion :

    Perrik – Good points! I agree, the instructors do make a huge difference.

    Charles – I'll read that post! 🙂

  • 25 Nick :

    I know that this is a little late, but I just ran across your blog. I work for the government after being in the military for 8 years. I attended classes in the classroom while I was in the Army at 5 different colleges. After I left the Army I started my new job and have continued my education. I started at the University of Phoenix where my agency payed almost $11,000 for six classes, one at a time, considered full time. I did extremely well and dedicated about an our and half of work to the class each week. After the six classes I reflected and didn't learn a thing.
    I was then accepted to Penn State University in their online program of which I am currently attending. I now have a 3.09 average and am dedicating 20-25 hours a week for the "same" full time status as the University of Phoenix. There is a big difference in the for-profit and not-for-profit universities. I have finished 4 semesters with Penn State and feel like I have learned quite a bit that will be extremely useful, not only for my job but also in life.
    There are certain big name companies that in the past has announced they will not pay for their employees to attend certain online colleges such as University of Phoenix. This was another part of my decision to transfer to a traditional university that has ventured online.
    Traditional universities know education and have excelled in academia for many years. Traditional universities are experts in education and are venturing into technology. These online universities are experts in technology and venturing into education.