In an Internet forum for students earning their degrees online, a worried student queries her counsellor about the legitimacy and value of online courses. “Are online degrees the future of education?” the student asks.
The counsellor replies, “Online courses are not the future — it is right now.”
Employers now seem fully comfortable with the idea of hiring candidates with online degrees, and these job seekers no longer need to be apologetic at interviews, saying, “By the way, I earned my degree online.”
Graduates with online degrees feel that recruiters care more for the reputation of their school, their major, and their GPA than whether they have earned their degrees online or from traditional universities. And this doesn’t seem to be a biased view.
Recruiters say the number of young students preferring to do their degrees online has increased, and naturally, so has the number of job applicants with such degrees. Recruiters have found more and more such candidates suitable for job positions, and the level of acceptance of online degrees by companies has also improved. Not considering these candidates would mean keeping out a large pool of talented people who might be ideal fits for their companies.
This shows that the perception of online degrees has changed dramatically from what it was only six or seven years ago. In 2009, in the US, a Cleveland State University study found that HR managers, executives, and other recruitment officials had a negative impression of online degrees, in some part because of the presence of a large number of diploma factories that offered online degrees to anyone who could pay their fees.
The poor opinion has largely faded away, says an official in a recruitment agency that hires employees for Fortune 500 companies. In fact, recruiters now realize that online students have a strong desire and commitment to improving their education while working full-time and balancing work and family responsibilities. In any case, the question of whether the candidate’s degree is from an online school or from a traditional university matters only at the entry stage, particularly if the candidate is fresh out of college.
Discerning HR managers know that online schools have now improved, and that some schools have taken pains to tone up the quality of their course delivery models. Recruiters have become more confident about the utility of online courses and the employability of graduates from these courses.
A question that job candidates with online degrees can expect at HR interviews is why they chose distance learning rather than the on-campus route. A US News article tells the story of an online-MBA-degree holder who was asked by a recruiter why he opted for distance learning. The degree holder, who was 46, simply said that he just didn’t have the time to drive to a university center after a hard day’s work managing a big team. His online course gave him more time for his studies and for his family.
An important concern for recruiters is whether an online-degree holder who has applied for a position can manage work relationships and has good communication skills. “Don’t these online students just sit in front of their computers? Where is the chance to speak and mingle with their group? How can I expect them to work in a team?” at least some recruiters wonder. However, graduates with online degrees insist that they got many opportunities to hone their teamwork skills, but the general feeling among some employers is apparently that online students lack exposure.
A major task for online degree holders, therefore, is to convince recruiters that they have worked on group assignments (stressing any projects done in multicultural environments) and interacting effectively in formal situations would not be new to them. Indeed, universities, particularly the reputed ones, now ensure that their online students complete at least some projects in groups and develop a capability to work in teams as part of their degree program. If graduates are able to bring this out at interviews, it would impress recruiters about the quality of online programs and their legitimacy even more
The old school of hiring managers and recruiters, decidedly against online degrees, does exist. One recruiter says that some employers continued to view candidates with degrees from traditional, brick-and-mortar universities more favorably than candidates with online degrees. However, a great CV and interview may demolish any bias that employers may have against online degree holders.
There is also a group of hiring managers who make a distinction between an online degree from an institution that has only an online curriculum, and a traditional university that conducts courses with both classroom and online lectures and activities. Graduates from universities with blended classroom and online curricula, including massive open online courses (MOOCs) from top schools, are winners, sitting across the desk from hiring managers.
A representative of an executive search firm says that nowadays, companies are more receptive to online-degree holders as candidates, especially for jobs that require work experience. They realize that online-degree holders already had jobs and were gaining precious work experience while simultaneously studying topics to improve their knowledge and skills. These employers tend to be more interested in their candidates’ work experience than in their degrees, what their previous job responsibilities were, and whether they completed these responsibilities successfully.
There are also recruiters and companies who don’t bother whether their ideal candidate for a job has an online or a traditional degree. Many interviewers don’t even ask, and candidates don’t volunteer this information. However, some companies, once they are aware that a candidate has an online degree, enquire whether it is from an accredited school.
A recruitment expert says some companies may even have an “understated” policy against recruiting online-degree holders. There is a danger of these recruiters not realizing during the interview that their ideal candidate has an online degree. On discovering this fact, they are forced to review their hiring decision, at a considerable loss to themselves and to the best candidate.
There is one certain deal-breaker: an online degree from a non-accredited school. Nothing puts off recruiters more than a candidate who has failed to find out about the legitimacy of his or her online program and presented a fake degree in quest of a job.
In India, online courses require the approval of the University Grants Commission’s (UGC’s) Distance Education Bureau. The open and distance learning (ODL) system used to be under the regulatory purview of the Distance Education Council of the Indira Gandhi National Open University before the powers were transferred to the UGC. The Indian Government is framing a “distance education council of India” (DECI) at the national level for regulating online education.
Some online courses have been derecognized by the UGC—for example, those of the Karnataka State Open University. The main reason seems to be that the UGC does not recognize courses that are completely online, with no classroom lectures.
In the US, programs have to be accredited by agencies that are authorized to do so by the US Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.
The report of a study in 2015 by Aslanian Market Research and the Learning House says that the greater acceptance of online degrees by recruiters is happy news for these graduates, since the primary objective of those enrolling for these degrees is to acquire new skills to fast-forward or change their careers.
An executive with 30 years’ experience, who has a degree from an online university in the US, says that in the final analysis, job performance is what will impress your managers and company and facilitate your career progression. Once you have started to prove yourself at work, no one is going to investigate whether you got your degree sitting in front of a computer or in a class with other students. If you are doing well at work, with an online degree under your belt, your employers may be persuaded to change any negative opinion that they may have about online degrees.
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