Online degrees are nothing new. Students have been pursuing degrees online, at accredited institutions, for more than fifteen years. It was one of the earliest major industries to be profoundly affected by the advent of the public internet. However, at first, questionable for-profit institutions (along with the novelty of the concept) resulted in relatively low expectations, and most degrees earned online fell into a relatively narrow range of, primarily, academic and administrative fields.
Today, online degrees are offered by a wide range of institutions, many of them among the most prestigious colleges and universities in the United States. In some fields, graduate programs can be completed entirely online, by students who have never set foot on a campus. The breadth of subject matter that is available for the remote scholar has also expanded significantly. Employers are becoming gradually more open to the concept of hiring online graduates; given this, it’s only fair to ask how these distant learning programs, and their graduate workforce, are viewed by employers in a general sense.
Many employers are interested in why a student would choose to pursue a degree online. This isn’t an inherently hostile question, but it does serve more than one purpose. An employer wants to know that a job candidate is a dedicated and high-energy individual, someone who is concerned about their field, and is willing to do what it takes to discharge their responsibilities successfully. That aside, and to a significant extent, this line of questioning also satisfies general curiosity about the priorities of the up-and-coming workforce. Employers want to know what kinds of things are important to their future employees, and how they are likely to prioritize their own time and resources. This helps with the creation and management of employee incentive initiatives, human resource policies, and other such programs.
Teamwork and Social Skills
This is a particularly important part of the interview process where students who received their degrees through online studies are concerned. Prospective employers are less likely to doubt the quality of an educational program, particularly if it comes from an accredited institution, than they are to wonder about the social and team-player aspects of a digital student’s academic experience. They will often want to know the extent to which students interacted with each other during the course of receiving their degrees, what projects involved collaborative efforts, and through what medium these took place (a text-based chat, versus video conferencing, for example). This is usually of greater concern to well-established employers, whose policies on hiring were written down in the years prior to the rise of the online educational model.
Accreditation is Vital
Accreditation is awarded to programs within a particular field or industry, by organizations with recognized authority within that industry. In effect, they are the degree program’s own degree: certification, by a third party, that the program knows its stuff. With an online graduate, a typical employer is more likely to inquire directly as to a program’s accreditation than they would be with a graduate from a traditional academic environment. This may include subject-specific accreditation, as well as the accreditation of institutions that are concerned with general academic quality and performance.
Slowly but surely, the trepidation associated with early, entirely digital institutions, which lacked a strong and well-established record of academic excellence and reputable business practices, is being replaced by cautious optimism. The obvious questions aside, most employers are willing to provide equal opportunity to online graduates, provided specific areas of common concern are addressed. This is particularly true in the growing technology industry, and in new business startups, where an increasingly younger entrepreneurial workforce is happy to take on students from diverse and innovative academic backgrounds.