How Are Online Degrees Perceived in the Workplace?

If you’re thinking about pursuing an online degree, you may be wondering how such a credential will be viewed by your potential employers and coworkers. Specifically, you may have questions like:

Do these online degrees carry the same weight as a degree earned in a traditional classroom setting?

Do online degrees really provide the same academic rigor as their on-campus counterparts?

Can I get a good job with an online degree?

Will I receive the same professional respect with an online credential?

Since online degree programs haven’t always been highly regarded, these are understandable concerns to have. In fact, it hasn’t been too long ago that online degrees were not taken seriously by employers, treating the credentials as little more than 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. In some cases, these online degrees were perceived as having about as much worth as the paper they were printed on.

It is a new era, though. If you’re seriously considering an online degree, you’ll be happy to learn that attitudes have changed as new technologies have boosted the popularity and legitimacy of virtual learning. Today, most colleges and universities participate in online learning/distance education to some extent.

Improvements in Online Learning

So, how did we get here exactly? The beginnings on online learning as we know it today can be traced back to early correspondence schools.

The Early Days of Distance Learning: Correspondence Schools

Correspondence schools were precursors of online learning institutions. Here’s how they worked: 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 type of content delivery system would come to be known as asynchronous delivery and is still used by some schools today. Other colleges and universities have worked to create platforms that allow real-time interaction between learners and teachers and between learners and their peers. These synchronous delivery systems allow students to simultaneously participate in class discussions and view lectures as they’re happening.

Enter Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS)

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. More recently, MOOC offerings have been repackaged to ensure mastery of key skills with a capstone project to ensure basic competency on the given topic.

Colleges And Universities Begin Embracing Online Learning

Meanwhile, degree-granting institutions began to ramp up their online programs. This move was made, in part, to accommodate the need for greater flexibility amongst certain student populations, including non-traditional students and graduate students, for instance. 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 family, work, and school schedules.

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.

Many of today’s online schools provide real-time interaction through live lessons in virtual classrooms, video-conferencing and social media engagement.

Impact on Hiring Standards

Due to the popularity of online programs as well as the strides that schools have made to improve them, online degrees have gained significantly more legitimacy. 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 has 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.

Now that most of academia embraces virtual learning, 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 are viewed as highly motivated, hardworking individuals who can be relied upon to deliver, even under pressure.

Leveling the Working Field

Fortunately, online 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 some people who earned their academic titles in the traditional way. For the most part, though, 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.

Frequently-Asked Questions About Online Degrees

As online degree programs become increasingly popular, more and more students are considering learning from home. These prospective students tend to have lots of questions, though. This is normal since earning a degree online is a significant decision that will alter the course of your future career. Below, we’ve fielded some of the most common questions posed by students considering a virtual learning format. Keep in mind that the answers we provide here are intended to offer general information and are not linked to any specific school or program. For questions about a particular college or university’s virtual learning options, it’s best to speak to an admissions counselor.

Q: Are online degree programs easier than those offered on campus?

A: Not usually. Online degrees are typically similar to campus-based credentials because they are based on the same curriculum standards. If anything, you may find online degree programs to be more challenging since you will complete much of the assigned work independently. In addition, the more flexible the online degree program is, the more self-discipline you will need in order to keep up with the subject matter and adhere to course deadlines.

Q: Do all online degree programs follow the same format?

A: No. Some degree programs are asynchronous in nature. This means you will have the freedom to log into your learning platform at any time to view pre-recorded lectures and participate in offline discussion forums. Other online degree programs are synchronous programs. This means you will have specific log-in times mandated by the professor. During these online sessions, you will view streaming lectures and participate in real-time discussions with your classmates.

Q: How do I choose between a synchronous and asynchronous online degree program?

A: Both asynchronous and synchronous online degree programs have their advantages and disadvantages. To choose one over the other, you will need to weigh your need for flexibility with your desire for engagement. Synchronous programs tend to be more interactive while asynchronous options are usually more convenient.

Q: Can I pursue an online degree on a part-time basis?

A: Yes! Many online degree programs are available via both part-time and full-time tracks. Part-time programs may allow you to work or take care of your children while simultaneously earning your academic credentials.

Q: How can I tell if an online degree program is legitimate?

A: Most of the online degree programs available today are, in fact, legitimate. Still, there are a few you should stay away from, including those offered by schools that have lost their accreditation. When looking for a virtual degree program, look for the college or university’s accreditation status. This is often listed on the school’s website, and you can also find it on the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) website. The school you choose should hold current accreditation from a national or regional accrediting body such as The Higher Learning Commission, for example.

Q: Will my degree state that I earned the credentials online?

A: Not always. If you earn your degree from a college or university that offers both online and on-campus programs, you will likely receive a standard diploma that doesn’t distinguish between course formats.

Q: Are online degree programs cheaper than on-campus programs?
A: Sometimes. Tuition costs will vary from school to school and even program to program. At the very least, you’ll save on housing and commuting expenses when you choose to earn your degree online.

Q: Can I earn my credentials faster with an online degree program?
A: In some cases, yes. Since online programs are often self-paced anyway, many schools offer them in accelerated formats that allow you to work ahead and fulfill degree requirements sooner rather than later.