How Are Online Degrees Perceived in the Workplace?

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It hasn’t been too long ago that online degrees were not taken seriously by employers, treating the credentials as certificate programs. The attitude back then was that these non-traditional degrees were not comparable to degrees earned from traditional schools in an on-campus setting. However, attitudes have changed as new technologies boosted the popularity of virtual learning, encouraging the participation of traditional schools in this new format.

Improvements in Online Learning

Correspondence schools were precursors of online learning institutions. Course materials were mailed to learners who completed the requirements on their own, after which worksheets or written assessments were mailed back to the school for evaluation. Later on, these programs were upgraded to video-based instruction with no real-time component. This format improved tremendously as new platforms allowed real-time interaction between learners and teachers and between learners and their peers.

The rise of MOOCS or massive open online courses operated by some of the world’s top universities emphasized the relevance of online learning. MOOCs were intended as single-topic, non-credit course offerings. Lately, MOOC offerings are being repackaged to ensure mastery of key skills with a capstone project to ensure basic competency on the given topic.

Meantime, degree-granting institutions ramped up their online programs. For students who did not wish to take time off to complete their bachelor’s or master’s degrees, virtual learning was the ideal solution to effectively juggle work and school schedules. Today’s online schools provide real-time interaction through live lessons in virtual classrooms, video-conferencing and social media engagement. Residential colleges were quick to jump on the trend with 86 percent of traditional schools offering online courses by 2012. These courses may be hybrid formats with learners spending part of their time on-campus and reverting to online lessons part of the time. About 33 percent offered degree programs that could be completed entirely online.

Impact on Hiring Standards

These days, recruitment and hiring officers have very few qualms when it comes to applicants with online degrees. They emphasize that an online degree is comparable to a similar degree earned as an on-campus student provided the online school had the proper accreditation. This is a big change in attitude considering that in 2009, studies conducted by Cleveland State University showed that hiring officers perceived online credentials negatively, associating online schools with diploma mills.

Employers have become more interested in evaluating candidates based on demonstrated knowledge, field of specialization and GPA. If anything, graduates who earned their degree from completing online courses were viewed as highly motivated, hardworking individuals who can be relied upon to deliver even under pressure.

These degrees are no longer stigmatized today as it has become difficult to distinguish between the types of academic credentials. If you earned your online degree from a reputable traditional college, expect to sail through the screening process just as easily as one who completed a residential program. According to a survey conducted by Excelsior College and Zogby International, 83 percent of executives agree that an online degree was as credible as a traditional degree, assuming that the schools had similar reputations.

Some executives may continue to harbor negative perception of these degrees even when shown that the curriculum is just as rigorous as the on-campus version. This attitude is expected from people who earned their academic titles in the traditional way. For the most part, hiring officers have become more receptive of graduates of online degrees because of the passion, commitment and hard work that went into earning these credentials.