Do Online Degrees Really Lead to Jobs?

Everything about online classes has been questioned: will students take them? are they as effective as regular classes? will they increase cheating? Now, with a 7.8 percent unemployment rate, the question is, will they get you a job?

Although online degrees are on the rise — there was a 10 percent increase in students who took at least one online class in the fall of 2010 — they are not always as popular with employers. Theoretically, a degree is a degree, and if an applicant is qualified, the medium in which they received their degree should not matter. But many employers rely on name recognition, which many online degree programs do not have. That attitude is shifting, but according to a report from the Society for Human Resource, 66 percent of human resource managers surveyed said applicants with online degrees were not viewed as favorably as those with traditional degrees.

With the advent of Massive Online Open Courses, name recognition is becoming less of a problem. The academic institutions behind them, like Harvard, Princeton and MIT, have no issue with that. But MOOCs do not grant degrees. Without the traditional recognition of learning that is embodied in a degree, it is unclear how MOOCs will translate into jobs, though the universities’ prestige may have enough clout with some employers.

But for the online institutions without an Ivy League backing, such as the not-for-profit Western Governors University, has had to make a concerted effort to ensure that its degrees lead to jobs. In order to combat its name recognition problem, the university permits employers to have a say on their curriculum. Those same employers, presented with a class of graduates with exactly the skills they are looking for, frequently decide to hire WGU graduates.

Online degrees are increasingly being recognized as legitimate, and online degree holders are faring better than ever in the job market. Even without offering degrees, MOOCs are lending credibility to a sector of education that some employers had in the past viewed as dubious. But there is still a long way to go before online degrees are equal to their traditional counterparts in the eyes of all employers.

Claire Perlman

Claire Perlman is a senior at UC Berkeley who covers Technapex's higher education beat. She is majoring in English literature and worked at her college’s student newspaper, The Daily Californian, for two years as a science reporter and news editor. She is currently working at UC Berkeley’s Mark Twain Project transcribing Twain’s letters and unpublished manuscripts.

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About Claire Perlman

Claire Perlman is a senior at UC Berkeley who covers Technapex's higher education beat. She is majoring in English literature and worked at her college’s student newspaper, The Daily Californian, for two years as a science reporter and news editor. She is currently working at UC Berkeley’s Mark Twain Project transcribing Twain’s letters and unpublished manuscripts.