Do Online MBAs Face a Reputation Hurdle?

One of the chief concerns of both students and providers of online education programs is the effect of the new medium's reputation. Students want a degree that will play as well in the employment marketplace as a traditional brick-and-mortar degree, and providers want to compete legitimately with traditional schools — and have the results to back up their claims.

Online education is so new, though, that there isn't much data or information about how online students fare in the employment world — or how companies receive them.

As schools increasingly offer online degrees for working professionals, such as MBA programs, they are addressing this murky area head-on by assuring students that online degrees programs are of the same quality as traditional offerings. Menachem Wecker writes at US News and World Report that the University of Delaware addressed this concern directly when announcing their online MBA:

"This is not a diluted product, half an MBA or MBA ‘lite,' but a full MBA tailored to the needs of a different target audience and offering the same quality Lerner College MBA that our residential students receive," Bruce Weber, the dean, told UDaily on Oct. 31, 2012.

But recruiters are still on the fence. The overall feeling seems to be that a high-quality school will deliver an equally high-quality online program, whereas a school with a lesser reputation will have that deficiency carry over to its online offerings.

"For me as a recruiter and for my clients, it really depends more on the school than the online [delivery]," says Remillard, who writes a weekly job advice column for the Orange County Register and is the author of two books on hiring.

Resumes and CVs seldom state whether a degree was earned in-person in a traditional education setting or online, making the school's overall reputation that much more important. The recruiter interviewed advises that candidates should list their school, degree and graduation year without denoting an online degree.

The corporate world is notoriously slow to adopt to broad changes in education, and programs such as online MBAs are no exception. A wait-and-see approach for online students might not just be the best option, but the only option.

However much corporate America focuses on invention, it is slow to accept innovation, according to Hill. "As the corporate world embraces Web conferencing as the norm, and a person can attend any school around the world without leaving [his or her] home," she says, "I believe the online MBA will be valuable within the next 20 years—just not today."

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