Traditional degrees still win out over online degrees—at least in employers’ eyes.
A new study titled “Not Yet Sold: What Employers and Community College Students Think About Online Education” revealed that employers are still skeptical about online degree quality.
The report also revealed that community college students have concerns about online learning.
The September 2013 study was released by Public Agenda, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that focuses on finding solutions for key issues, including higher education, energy issues, healthcare and the national debt.
Concerns Remain About Online Degree Credibility
Online education continues to grow, with the latest statistics estimating that at least one-third of undergraduate students take one or more online courses. But negative attitudes toward online degrees remain, particularly in the workforce.
When asked about job applicants, employers responded with the following stats:
• 56 prefer an applicant with a degree from an average school that was completed entirely in the classroom
• Just 17 percent prefer an applicant with a degree from a top school that was completed entirely online
• 21 percent thought it didn’t make a difference
One reason for this preference may be perceptions about online degree difficulty — 39 percent of employers thought online-only programs were easier to pass, and just 13 percent thought they were harder.
Employers do make one notable exception in their online degree skepticism: 80 percent agreed that “online-only degrees and certificates provide real opportunities for older students to get valuable college credentials.” But will employers hire these older adult learners? The study didn't explore that topic, but many adult students already have jobs and are seeking a degree for better career opportunities—an advancement that only a degree (online or not) can offer.
Overall, hybrid programs, which are a mix of online and in-person courses, came out on top for employers. The survey noted that 82 percent thought hybrid programs gave students a better education than online-only programs.
For many employers, a traditional—or at least mostly traditional—degree still offers the highest quality education.
Community College Students and Online Learning
The survey also tapped into community college students’ perspectives and found some of the same online degree credibility concerns.
According to the study, 46 percent of community college students take at least a few online courses, if not all. But of those, 41 percent wish they could take fewer online courses—a statistic that may be alarming to community college educators. Only 20 percent of students wanted to take more online classwork.
The survey also revealed that students don’t necessarily think online courses are easier. Of those community college students polled, 38 percent thought online classes are more challenging than in-person courses. They also believe distance learning requires more self-governance, with 61 percent of community college students noting online courses take more discipline than traditional classes.
Classes may be more challenging and require more discipline, but surprisingly, 95 percent of students still thought they learned less or about the same as a traditional class as in an online course.
Online degree credibility remains an issue for employers and even the students themselves. Will more experience with online learning change their perspectives? The team at Get Educated will be sure to let you know as we update our education news.
Rachel Wang is a writer, editor and producer with a background in journalism and online media. She holds a master's degree in library and information science and specializes in online learning news and trends for the Get Educated news team.