Are online degrees respected? Prospective college students have been asking this question for years, but they’re asking it more and more in 2020 as most learning has gone online.
Online degrees are becoming increasingly common. In fact, 15 percent of college students in 2018 were enrolled in online-only programs. According to a 2016 study by the Online Learning Consortium, 28 percent of college students take at least one online class during their studies. To meet demand, more and more colleges and universities are offering online-only programs.
An online education is now just as valuable as a traditional on-campus degree. You can earn a degree through an online college and your future employer may not even know the difference, meaning one won’t be considered over the other.
Types of Online Degrees and Programs
Before worrying too much about whether or not online degrees are respected, you should learn about the different types of online degrees out there.
Some online degrees are 100 percent online and are offered by an institution that does not even have a physical location. Other programs are hybrid, offering a mix of online classes and face-to-face classroom experiences.
There are also some degrees and professions that are more suited to online degree programs than others. For example, online degrees in service fields like social work, human services, or teaching from accredited institutions are just as valuable as classroom programs. However, most of those people-facing professions require in-person practicums in their degree programs. This means you won’t be able to complete every degree requirement exclusively online.
Other online degrees, like those for tech-focused professions, are much more suited to online-only study because they don’t require any hands-on learning. They also work because they already involve computer information technology, so they may be more conducive to online learning. These types of degrees include subjects like cybersecurity, computer science, business intelligence, web design, software development, marketing, and more. Check out our list of some of the best degrees to get online.
Is My Online Degree Going to Be Taken Seriously?
Where did you get your degree? Was it from an accredited institution? The truth is that you have to be careful with anything you do online.
Some for-profit colleges might offer online degree programs that aren’t regionally or nationally accredited, for example. Unaccredited programs are commonly known as “diploma mills” because they churn out diplomas so quickly that they are like a mill or factory. Unfortunately, there are no full-proof laws in place to prevent these kinds of diploma mills from operating.
However, there are some red flags you can look out for to make sure that the online-only school you are considering isn’t a diploma mill. One important factor is how the school charges tuition. If the school charges a flat fee for an entire degree rather than per credit hour, it probably isn’t legitimate. Another concern would be if the degree is advertised as “fast” or “easy.” Though some online degrees are accelerated, intended to help you get your degree more quickly, they are not supposed to be unrealistically fast.
The most important red flag is if a school is unaccredited. Any unaccredited school or program is not going to help you with your career because employers are not going to take that diploma seriously. Basically, without higher education accreditation, a school does not have the stamp of approval that makes it valid. The Department of Education recognizes national accrediting bodies, while accrediting bodies like the New England Commission of Higher Education give regional accreditation.
You shouldn’t consider an online degree program without accreditation, no matter how good their advertising makes the program sound.
Do Employers Prefer Traditional Classroom Programs Over Online Degrees?
Employers care more about the subject and the level of your degree than whether it was completed online or in person. Many major companies have become accustomed to seeing online master’s degrees on CVs; online-only bachelor’s degrees are still less common.
Employers view online-only schools with a bit more suspicion than they would a degree that you completed online at a school that also exists as a brick-and-mortar institution. This is because they may not be familiar with it and may not trust that it has the necessary accreditation. Luckily, as online degrees become more and more common, employers will become more open to them.
Online degree programs from schools that do have physical locations are typically more respected. This is because employers often can’t tell the difference between the online and the face-to-face program. It’s also because they might trust the online program more when they know it is associated with a physical institution that is already highly respected.
Human resource departments are catching up with the times and understand that online college is often a better and more accessible education option for many students. In fact, according to a 2018 Northeastern University study, 61 percent of HR leaders believe online degrees are of equal or even greater value than in-person degrees. Fifty-two percent of these same HR professionals believe the majority of college students will eventually be online students.
As online programs become more common and more respected, their flexibility and accessibility will turn the tide of higher education as we know it. Online degrees are already respected, but their overall acceptance and popularity will continue to grow.
If you’re considering getting an online degree, don’t worry too much about what employers will think. Worry more about the quality of the online degree itself and make sure that it is legitimate and accredited, which will ensure its quality and recognition.
As HR professionals continue to understand the equal value of online degrees, students will stop asking this question. In short, the answer is yes. Quality, accredited online degrees are respected.