You Influence What Employers Think about an Online Degree

You Influence What Employers Think about an Online Degree

You’ve made an investment of your time and finances to earn an online degree. But once it’s completed and you begin a career search, what is the reality you are likely to face when you tell a prospective employer than you earned your degree online? Will it be accepted or will it be questioned? What are some ways you can positively influence the process? Let’s consider the common perspectives now, why those viewpoints are changing, and what you can do to encourage acceptance of your hard-earned degree.

Common perspectives from employers on online degrees

Research on typical employer perspectives toward online degrees includes the following:

A.    A report by the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) in 2007 shared results of a survey of 425 human resources professionals. In this report, it was stated that “71% of companies reimburse their employees for degrees earned online from regionally accredited higher education institutions and programs.
B.    In 2007, an article appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education titled Employers Often Distrust Online Degrees. It sparked an ongoing debate about issues of acceptance and education quality.
C.    In 2007, an article appeared in Distance Learning Today, Major Employers Embrace Online Degrees, Richard Garrett (Senior Analyst at Eduventures, Inc.) indicated that their research found that more than 62% of employers “have a favorable attitude toward online instruction, viewing the value of online learning as being equal to or greater than that of face-to-face instruction.
D.    In 2008, Jack Welch  (Former CEO of General Electric) was asked if he would hire someone with an online degree. He responded, “To count out a candidate based on an online degree may be shortsighted. People working all day and studying online all night have the kind of “grrr” most companies could use.
E.    In 2009, Excelsior College/Zogby International Distance Learning Survey results were reported and found that 83% of employers (out of a pool of 1,500 CEOs surveyed) indicated that “an online college is as credible and valid as one from a traditional campus-based school.

But while the overall trend seems to indicate a growing acceptance of online degrees, it does not tell the whole story. The evidence of acceptance can be found in the practical use and application of your degree. Let’s examine this further.

Reasons for growing acceptance

Our society is information-based, which means that employees are knowledge workers who use information as a resource within their job. This includes almost all forms of employment.  Within an information or knowledge-based economy, employers also understand the importance of maintaining an online presence through e-commerce operations (online stores), social networking websites (social media), and communicating with customers through the use of technology (email, text messaging, blogs, newsletters, etc.). In addition, many companies have virtual employees who work from a home office or other off-site location.  In this type of professional environment, online learning is a natural fit.

In an information economy, employers value education and understand the importance of having an educated workforce. In fact, employees with a college education account for the largest number people in the workforce, numbering almost 47 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. What’s even more impressive is that unemployment rate for people without a college education is 8.8%, whereas; people with a bachelor’s degree or higher only have a 4.4% unemployment rate as of November 2011.  This includes all forms of higher education, traditional and online. There is no distinction made between on-ground and online degrees.

It is not uncommon for corporate training to be delivered through electronic means, including webinars and online course modules. Employers see the benefit of learning outside a traditional classroom because of scheduling, training costs, and employees who are at remote locations.

Corporate training is also supplemented with college courses. A research study was conducted by the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) in partnership with Capella University and the result was a report titled: The Role of Online Higher Education in Corporate Learning. One of the aspects of the research project was to learn about the potential for corporate training to include courses through online schools. The results of the study found that organizations would consider utilizing online courses as a means of increasing the number of educational opportunities for employees.

The influences of perceptions

As you read through the articles and reports about current employment trends, you are likely to find that the views held by employers about the quality of an online degree are often perceptual in nature. This is important because perceptions can change, and they often do through the result of experience. The primary concern that is most frequently cited is about the quality of an online education, and that can be addressed through accreditation and other quality measures implemented by online schools.

The perceptions of employers will continue to change because of the number of employees who will have taken an online course or earned an online degree will continue grow. In addition to the growth of online schools, most traditional schools are offering online classes and online degree programs. As such, employees who happen to have experience with online learning will demonstrate that the knowledge gained from that experience is relevant and applicable to their jobs, and the format for obtaining a degree doesn’t diminish its value. What may further determine acceptance of your online degree is the approach you take when you talk to a potential employer.

An approach you can use

The purpose of a resume and a job interview is to market the skills and abilities you offer. In fact, most students who have completed a degree will list the name of the degree and the school, without indicating how the degree was obtained, so you do not necessarily have to make it obvious that your degree was earned online. However, always be honest “” if an employer asks whether your degree was earned online or on campus, answer truthfully. In addition, it would be beneficial to list some of the courses you took that are relevant to the job or career, and include a capstone or culminating project description to further highlight your achievement. When you are asked about the type of degree program, emphasize the knowledge acquired and the skills you have gained. For example, as an online student, you have to collaborate with others, communicate effectively through discussion boards, manage your time efficiently, conduct research, and demonstrate critical thinking skills through your written assignments.

With an online degree, you can distinguish yourself further because you are likely to have current, usable knowledge. Most online instructors work in the field they teach and they often utilize current and relevant resources as part of their instructional practice, which means you can learn theory and application of theory to the real world.

Research shows that online degrees and online schools are being more widely accepted by employers. However, the true test of value isn’t going to be the perception of a potential employer, it will occur as a result of your ability to demonstrate that you have obtained a high-quality education. You’ll demonstrate quality through the acquisition of knowledge and skills that can be applied immediately to your job from a fully accredited school. What employers think about online education can be directly influenced by your approach and your ability to function as a knowledge worker in an information economy.

By Dr. Bruce Johnson

Photo © Tetra Images/Corbis

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