Are companies beginning to accept online degrees?

Students ask this question all the time when they’re thinking of signing up for an online degree program, and find it tough to get a clear answer because there’s so much propaganda put out about it by online degree promoters.


Very few real studies have been done around this question, which is odd given the explosive growth of online learning. There are just two I see quoted frequently. The first is a 2006 survey by writers Adams and DeFleur that looked at employers’ (267 of them) perceptions of online bachelor’s degrees as they pertained to hiring for entry-level positions. Another is a qualitative study (a more anecdotal series of interviews) by a writer named Seibold, who talked to “gatekeepers” in several different industries. The Adams & DeFleur study didn’t paint a pretty picture: a whopping 95% of employers indicated a preference for candidate with a traditional degree versus an online one. The Seibold study showed, in far more vague terms, that employers tended to have a view that traditional degrees are better than online ones.

I do believe in online degrees, however, and I’ll note a few shortcomings in these studies:

1) 2007 is a long time ago in the world of education. So many people have taken online degrees since then that, if you’re applying for a position, the chances that the person reviewing your resume is also an online degree graduate have risen dramatically.

2) The truth is that many employers may will never know if you earned a degree in a classroom or online program, unless you choose to put it on your resume. It certainly won’t appear in your diploma. 

3) Attitudes vary a lot depending on which industry you want to go into. I know from having interviewed managers at a top university hospital, for example, that online nursing bachelor’s degrees are definitely considered acceptable. 

4) Finally, a lot depends on which online school you attended, whether your majored in an area where there are job openings and how well you did there.

American companies have, by and large, gotten very used to doing all their internal training through webinars, video conferences and online tutorials. They’ve also realized that when they pay for an employee to finish a degree or go to graduate school, which they do quite frequently, it’s much cheaper for them if their employee earns that degree online — that’s made them feel much more wam and fuzzy about online education.

For adults going back to school to give a boost to their careers – who form that greatest percentage of those getting online degrees today – I really think the question is which school do you want to go to, and which industries do you have a realistic hope of getting a job in? Here’s something on the hiring outlook in some key areas like nursing, technology and jobs for MBA grads for the rest.

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