Survey Finds Skepticism Among Employers, Students Over Online Degrees

Online education is quickly moving into the higher education mainstream with both fully online education and hybrid programs, but a survey the nonprofit organization Public Agenda found that employers and community college students remain skeptical about the value of online learning. According to the survey, both groups are unsure about the effectiveness and quality of online degrees, writes Allie Bidwell in US News.

The survey, ‘What Employers and Community College Students Think About Online Education', found that most employers would prefer a job applicant with a traditional degree from an average school over one with an online degree from a top university.

The researchers, who surveyed 656 human resources professionals, found that although employers see a positive side to online learning, most prefer applicants who earn their degrees in the classroom. Nearly half of employers said online-only programs require more discipline and 56% still prefer applicants with traditional degrees from an average university over those with an online degree from a top school. Most employers — about 82% — said a combination of in-person and online education would benefit the majority of students, according to the survey.

Most employers believe there is a niche for online education, especially for older students.

The survey also found that community college students are split on whether the quality of online education is comparable to classroom instruction. In response to quality and discipline questions, 85% agree online classes require the same discipline from students as in-person classes. At the same time, 42% believe students learn less in online courses than in more traditional settings.

Many community college students think online classes are harder to pass than in-person courses. About 18% said they are easier to pass and 39% saw no difference.

The survey findings suggest many employers and community college students are not yet convinced of the value of online education. As the online revolution marches on and opinion evolves, will employers become more accepting? It certainly seems likely they'll get more used to online education, given its growing prevalence. How they view online degrees, though, will probably depend on the quality of the new hires they encounter from online programs, and how these hires compare to those who have gone through traditional programs. Their lingering skepticism may also indicate a general need for better communication between colleges and employers about the knowledge and skills the latter seek in their employees.

In addition, the research suggests community colleges have work ahead of them to ensure the types of online education they offer meet the diverse needs of their students. Online education should serve as an effective option for the students who want it or can best benefit from it without becoming a burden or obstacle for those who do not.

"The biggest thing about online learning has absolutely nothing to do with distance. It has to do with moving time around," said John Ebersole, president of Excelsior College, where the average student age is 38. "Online education is not, in my judgment, all that appropriate for an 18-to 24-year old. But it is absolutely critical to the graduate student or to the adult student who needs to be able to mix going back to school with life."

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