How Credible Are Online Degrees?

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Going back to school to earn your bachelor’s or master’s degree is an effective way to improve your career prospects and potential salary. But how many of us can afford to quit their job and go to school full time? That reality, combined with the advance of technology and broadband Internet, has led to the proliferation of online degree programs.

Whether you want to earn a bachelor’s, master’s or even a Ph.D., odds are that you can find an online degree program to fit your needs. Many of these distance-based degree programs can be completed entirely online, while some may require periodic visits to campus.

This certainly sounds alluring, but there are naturally many things to consider. The most important is this: How credible is an online degree today? What will employers think about you in an interview if they learn you earned your MBA online?

To many people, a degree is always going to be viewed as a degree no matter where you earned it. But for others, there may be questions of trust and credibility. After all, traditional, campus degree programs have been in existence in the US for centuries. Online programs for the most part are less than 20 years old. But things are changing quickly.

Online Degrees Gaining Acceptance

A review of literature and sources on the subject of online degrees going back to 2010 suggests that online degrees have gained broad acceptance, with some caveats related to the university offering the degree, as well as accreditation of the school and program.

According to a survey done way back in 2010 by Zogby International and Excelsior College, 61% of CEOs and small business owners were familiar with online degrees. And 83% of them stated at that time that an online degree was as credible as a campus-based degree. Employers in that survey stated that the accreditation of the university, quality of graduates and the reputation of the school giving the degree were what counted in making the degree credible or not.

US News and World Report stated more recently that many young professionals today have found that potential employers do not even inquire if their degree was obtained online or on campus.

The lack of questioning about where you got your degree could indicate that more employers are accepting online degrees as equivalent to campus-based ones. There is no question that the number of online bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in recent years have increased greatly. More employers may be accepting online degrees as quality degrees because they are so common today.

This was not always so. As recently as 2009, a literature review conducted by Cleveland State University determined that HR managers, company executives and other major decision makers held negative views of most online degrees. Some recruiters stated that there was a stigma attached to many online degrees at that time. Some of the online degrees available then and today still may be unaccredited and available to anyone who has the money to pay.

But today, US News notes, employers do not often question the quality of online degrees. Actually, notes the global recruiting firm Manpower, some employers may appreciate the fact that a young professional earns a bachelor’s degree online.

Companies with an entrepreneurial spirit often appreciate students who have shown that they can juggle many commitments while earning their degree online. Being able to balance a job, family and school can indicate that a person has a high level of self discipline, the article notes.

Online degrees may be becoming more accepted also because of the large number of students taking courses online. As of 2012, at least 7.1 million students took one course online, according to the Babson Survey Research Group. US News and World Reports as of 2014 that 5.8 million students were enrolled in at least one online course. This was a 4% increase from the year before.

The perception of all online degrees also has changed because many top-ranked universities are offering online degree programs, as well as massive open online courses, or MOOCs. With schools as distinguished as MIT, Duke, University of North Carolina and Stanford offering online degree programs, it is only natural that online degree programs have a higher status in the eyes of employers.

There are still some more traditional employers who may not accept online degree credentials, however. These are people who are resistant to change and traditional in terms of education and qualifications. But they are increasingly in the minority in recent years, the evidence suggests.

Factors That Make Online Degrees Credible

There is little doubt that online degrees are generally more accepted today than they were a decade ago. But not every online degree is created the same. If you are looking at an online bachelor’s or master’s program, employers report that there are several very important factors that make online degrees increase in credibility. There are still ‘diploma mills’ out there that churn out largely worthless degrees that are ‘accredited’ by unknown bodies of little value.

You can avoid wasting time and money on these worthless degrees by focusing on what makes an online degree credible in the eyes of employers:

University Reputation

An online degree from a well-known, respected university that has been around for 100+ years will always be viewed more favorably than an online degree from a school that started in 2005.

Students who want a credible online degree should select a program from a university that has both on campus and online degree options, and is well known. For example, Duke University offers many online bachelor’s and master’s programs. It would be a very rare employer who would question the quality of any degree that is issued from Duke University.

Accreditation

It is very important that the university that you choose has been at least regionally accredited by an accreditation agency recognized by the Department of Education. These are:

  • Higher Learning Commission
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Northwest Accreditation Commission
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges

In addition, the program you are considering for an online degree should hold a program-specific accreditation from a respected accreditation agency in that field. For example, the most well known accreditation agency for business schools is the AACSB. If your online MBA program is AACSB-accredited, concerns about the degrees credibility are unfounded.

Time to Earn

Most credible online degrees take approximately the same amount of time to earn as a campus-based degree. If you are earning an online bachelor’s degree, it should take close to four years to earn it. If the university states that you can earn the online bachelor’s in a few months, this is probably not a credible degree.

Curriculum Rigor

The online degree program should have the exact same curriculum as the campus-based version of the degree. This is another reason it is a good idea to attend an online degree program with a campus-based version of the same program – so you can compare.

Diploma mills require little work from online students and may take life or work experience into account for issuing credits. This is not a credible way to earn your degree.

Summary

Online degrees are viewed as more credible today than ever before by most employers. It is still important however to do careful research of any university or degree you are considering. By ensuring that you are getting an online degree from a respected and accredited university, you can be confident that you are obtaining a degree that will be beneficial for your future career.

Additional Resources

References

  • Online Degree Programs – How to Tell the Good from the Bad. (2012, Nov. 9). Retrieved from https://www.usnews.com/education/online-education/articles/2012/11/09/online-degree-programs-how-to-tell-the-good-from-the-bad
  • What Employers Really Think About Your Online Bachelor’s Degree. (2014, Feb. 28). Retrieved from https://www.usnews.com/education/online-education/articles/2014/02/28/what-employers-really-think-about-your-online-bachelors-degree
  • Consider This Before You Pay for an Online Degree. (2010, Jan. 1). Retrieved from https://www.usnews.com/education/online-education/articles/2012/01/10/consider-this-before-you-pay-for-an-online-degree
  • The Pros and Cons of Getting a Degree Online. (2015, May 25). Retrieved from http://college.usatoday.com/2015/05/25/the-pros-and-cons-of-getting-a-degree-online/
  • Employers and Online Education. (2010, March 29). Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/worklife/03/29/cb.employers.online.education/index.html
  • Enrollment Up in Online Learning Except at For Profits. (2016, Feb. 9). Retrieved from https://www.usnews.com/education/online-education/articles/2016-02-09/study-enrollment-in-online-learning-up-except-at-for-profits
Sady Brown
Written by Sady Brown
Sady Brown is Editorial Strategist for Nogre.com