Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Value of Online College Degrees

A client of mine is considering getting an online Master's degree. I am looking for feedback from this group as to how employers regard online degrees. In other words, from an employer's perspective, does an applicant with an MBA from the University of Phoenix truly have an edge over someone else who doesn't have an advanced degree? Are there esteemed online universities? Or are they considered shortcuts for people who are too busy to go to a "real" university?
---Christine LeMay, M.A., Career Counselor for Women

Answer #1
by Mary Walker, Consultant

Speaking as a hiring manager and someone who's driven recruiting at times (my hiring experience is Silicon Valley and management consulting, for various functions):

Online degrees or other certifications (such as UC or Stanford extension) are *not* the equivalent value to "traditional degrees," especially not traditional degrees from name-brand institutions like U.C. Berkeley or Stanford.

What additional certifications *do* mean to me, is a willingness of the candidate to go out and pursue further education. So that's a plus. So somebody who's applying for an HR position, who's gone out and gotten an HR certification, gets bonus points with me. But that's not the equivalent of their having a degree from Berkeley or Stanford. Not by a long shot.

But no, in my humble opinion, there's no online "university" that's got the reputation of the traditional, in-person, standard degree program. That may change over time.

For applicants -- I do think it's worth being thoughtful and getting marketplace understanding, of the value of a degree/certification in your field and your industry, before putting your time and your money in. That applies to all degrees, not just online ones.

There are lots of "diploma mills" (real and virtual) who are happy to take your money and who tell you their degree will make a big difference in your career. Much of the time, it won't.

But that said -- yes there are certifications, degrees and ongoing education that will make a difference in how your resume is perceived. It just very much depends on your function (HR vs. sales, etc.) and your industry (for example, my understanding is that PMI certification is important in industries like defense and aviation -- it's not of great interest for most Silicon Valley project manager jobs).

Answer #2
by Sue Aiken,MA,NCCC, TSA Career Coach

No matter where an individual decides to attend college or grad school, it should be accredited by, in the western states, WASC (Western Association of School Accreditation, I think). You might search their web site for clarification and to see what standards they have set for online programs.

Online degrees are quite legitimate as long as the university or program is accredited. There is tremendous rigor involved for educational institutions to maintain their status and much hinges on it. Have your client ask about their accreditation and inquire as much as they wish about it. It is completely appropriate.

One other thing to know about embarking on an online degree program is that the rate of completion used to be very low. I assume that is probably still the case. Students have to be very motivated individuals to be successful in this type of learning. Having said that, there are hundreds of people getting degrees they could not otherwise have obtained.

As I do career coaching with TSA (Transportation Security Agency) employees, I am surprised that the AA degree in Homeland Security wasn’t successful. That agency has aligned with some university in the east for a masters in that topic for its employees. Many TSA employees do not have college degrees and look for ways to advance their careers. Unfortunately, given the current time in which we live, this is a growing occupational area and there are some amazingly dedicated people seeking these types of positions. It is a terrific second career for cops and ex-military.

I might add that I have talked with many adults who have completed online degrees and could not have done it otherwise. I also think one should ask some of these folks what the pros and cons are so a client realizes what will be difficult over a lengthy period of time. Some degree programs offer online chats, actual campus visits, team projects, etc. to help deal with learning in isolation. Discuss the client's learning style as this will not be for everyone.

This thread was posted on a listserve for Career Development Professionals. The messages are reprinted here with permission from each of the respondents.

Job Loungers, how do you feel about online degrees? Are they valued in the workplace? Let us know by voting in the survey in the top left column of this page; or leaving us a comment on this post.

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