online degrees vs traditional degrees

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In the past two decades, online learning has become commonplace in higher education. Toward the end of the 20th Century when online learning was just beginning, it was considered less than favorable compared to traditional on-campus learning. That is no longer the case.

More and more learners enroll in online education because of the flexibility that most online programs provide to learn at your own pace. It’s a way for students of all ages – even those in high school – to begin their education quickly and easily.

What’s more, online learning environments are much more robust than they once were. Twenty years ago, you might have been lucky to have a chat room to discuss course topics with your classmates and professor.

Today’s online learning, though, is more like a traditional classroom. It often includes live video and audio streams, archived lessons, and learning tools that make the online learning experience an incredibly rich and challenging one.

Additionally, online learning is as close to traditional learning as it’s ever been. While you can’t meet up with your classmates at the library to work on a group project, you can login to Zoom and collaborate together in real-time, face-to-face, from anywhere in the world.

While online classes, degrees, and certifications have become more accepted in general by society, you might still wonder, “what do employers think about online degrees?” Questions like this are good ones to have! As you prepare for your future, you want to have all the information you need to make a sound decision about where and how you get your education.

As we discuss below, online programs can provide an excellent return on investment if you choose the program wisely. They can also closely mimic traditional programs to give you a complete educational experience.

See also: The Different Online Learning Modes for Online Degree Programs

Online Degree vs Traditional Degree: It’s Best if the Online Degree is From a Traditional School

One of the caveats of earning an online degree is that it’s best if the degree is from one of many well-established, traditional colleges.

For example, an online degree from the University of Southern California holds a lot of weight. In fact, it has just as much weight as an on-campus degree. USC is a well-known school with a long history of academic excellence. That reputation helps give their online programs added respect, even though those programs aren’t offered on campus.

On the other hand, if you pursue an online degree from an online-only institution that formed just a few years ago, there might be some questions regarding the academic rigor required to get the degree. Unfortunately, some students find this out the hard way – countless for-profit online colleges and diploma mills have gone defunct over the years and left students with an incomplete education and little to no recourse for getting their money back.

See also: How to Know if an Online Program is Offered by a Reputable School

Importance of Accreditation

Another aspect to this is the need for your online school to be accredited.

Traditional schools that offer online degrees – like USC – are regionally accredited, which is the most prestigious type of accreditation. With regional accreditation, a college or university takes on a rigorous, voluntary process in which various aspects of the school’s academics, faculty, and finances are evaluated by a third-party.

Accredited institutions have met all the necessary requirements that attest to their academic excellence. In addition to the criteria mentioned above, colleges and universities are judged on their curriculum and facilities. Accreditation determines whether an institution is credible or deemed a reputable school.

In other words, accreditation helps ensure that a school delivers a high-quality education to its students. This benefits you academically, of course. Accreditation is also needed to make transferring credits easier. If you begin your online degree at one regionally accredited school, the chances of your credits transferring to another regionally accredited school are very high.

The same can’t be said for credits earned at a nationally accredited school. If you earn credits at a nationally accredited college, they will most likely not be accepted by a regionally accredited school.

National accreditation isn’t as difficult to get as regional accreditation. For this reason, it is viewed as less prestigious. And, where regional certification is often reserved for public (like a state university) and private universities (like an Ivy League institution), national certification is usually reserved for trade schools, for-profit colleges, and online-only institutions.

Many certification exams and professional exams require you to have a degree from a regionally accredited school to sit for the exam. Some employers might also require you to have a degree from a regionally accredited institution.

So, is an online degree the same as a traditional degree?

As you look for online degrees vs traditional degrees, bear in mind that the backing of a traditional school is necessary. Accreditation is also critically important. Include these two criteria in your search for an online degree program to be sure you choose a college that will help you pursue your future goals.

See also: Top Accredited Online Bachelor Degree Programs

Do Employers Respect Online Degrees?

online degree vs traditional degreeAccording to a 2019 report by Northwestern University, 92 percent of employers view an online degree from a traditional school as favorable. That same report reveals that 83 percent of business leaders believe that an online degree from a traditional school has the same value as a degree earned on campus. These are obviously very favorable statistics if you wish to pursue an online education.

But, there are some caveats to how employers view online degrees.

The Northwestern study also reveals this: only 42 percent of employers would hire a job candidate whose online degree came from an online-only school – even if that school is accredited. So, when considering the question, “do employers respect online degrees?”, the reputation of the school you choose has a lot to do with it.

Part of this issue is the quality of online instruction and the quality of the faculty. You need to remember that the faculty is the most valuable asset of a school. Part of your school search should include an examination of the quality of the online faculty and their reputation in their field of study.

When you take online courses from traditional brick-and-mortar institutions, you’ll find that the vast majority of the time, online courses are taught by the same faculty that teach on campus. You’ll have the same coursework and assignments. You’ll take the same tests and complete the same projects. This goes back to the school’s reputation – employers know that the same faculty teach both types of courses, and therefore view online learning more favorably when it comes from traditional schools.

So, our central question of “how do employers view online degrees?” has a complicated answer. While there is a very favorable view of online learning and online degrees, the caveat that the degree comes from a traditional school is an important point to remember for employers and online degrees.

See also: 30 Cheap Accredited Online Colleges

A Favorable Shift Towards Online Programs

online learningAs mentioned earlier, online learning used to be viewed as a lesser means of getting a degree. But there has been a shift towards acceptance of online learning, and in many cases, it’s now the preferred method of getting a degree.

This shift in attitude has led to an explosion of distance learning. A 2019 study by the Department of Education and the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) revealed that more than 7.3 million students in the U.S. were enrolled in at least one distance education course (online learning, hybrid classes, etc.). Of those, nearly 3.5 million students studied exclusively online either full-time or part-time.

Most online degrees are earned at the bachelor’s level. The NCES study showed that nearly 2.5 million of the 3.5 million students that studied completely online earned a degree from bachelor’s degree programs.

But if you’re thinking about getting a graduate degree, online degrees are becoming more popular at that degree level. According to the NCES, more than 1 million students worked exclusively on an online post-baccalaureate degree in 2019. So, are online masters degrees accepted by employers? With more and more students getting graduate degrees online, potential employers are demonstrating a willingness to hire employees whose graduate studies were done remotely.

Part of the shift is bring attributed to the increase in highly-regarded traditional institutions, such as Ivy League schools, offering online programs.

At first, some faculty members were leery of their schools adding online curriculums. Change can be difficult to manage, and when you’ve taught your courses in the same way for many years, adapting that for a new format can be intimidating.

However, once implemented, most college professors discovered that online programs gave them a great opportunity to teach students near and far in an environment that closely mimics that of an online classroom. Especially in today’s world of online learning, professors and their students have many different ways to interact and build a learning environment that offers as much richness as an in-person class.

See also: 30 Easiest Online Programs for Undergrads

Desirable Characteristics of Online Graduates

Students who obtain their degrees online are pretty much the same as traditional degree students. Just like their traditional degree counterparts, online students need to attend lectures, complete homework, papers and other assignments, and participate in class discussions.

However, there is one remarkable difference between the two types of students. And it is this difference that draws employers to online students.

Online students face the challenge of a lack of accountability when it comes to showing up to their classes. This challenge threatens an online student’s ability to complete their program. Yet, it is this exact challenge that draws employers. Online graduates are viewed as overcoming this challenge and therefore, are seen as possessing superior time management skills, initiative, motivation, and a high level of self-discipline.

Even further, employers view online graduates as being very knowledgeable and comfortable with technology. This is a trait that is sought by almost every industry these days.

Employers also perceive online graduates as being self-starters and perhaps better at prioritizing tasks. In addition, online graduates are often seen as thinking outside of the box when problem solving. Again, these are skills that employers in all fields like to see in their potential employees.

See also: Top Accredited Online Colleges

Online Learning is Every Bit as Good as In-Person Learning

The Northwestern University study mentioned earlier contained another interesting fact about online learning. Online students actually outperform on-campus students when learning the same material. So, not only is online learning not a step down from in-person learning, but it actually leads to better academic performance.

Now, not everyone is well-suited for online learning. Not all programs are easily delivered online, either. So you need to take the favorable statistics about online learning with a grain of salt.

Ultimately, there are many different questions you need to address when thinking about online learning:

  • Is online learning suited to my academic skills and talents (and weaknesses)?
  • Is the degree I want to pursue easily obtained online?
  • Is the school I want to attend accredited?

These questions should be considered alongside questions that will impact your future career:

  • How do employers feel about online degrees?
  • Is the field I want to work in conducive to online learning?
  • Will I need to continue my online education and get a graduate degree for my desired career?

As you can see, there are many different factors to consider for your education, not the least of which is “do employers care about online degrees?” Generally speaking, the answer to that question is no, future employers don’t much care whether your degree was earned online.

But just like it’s important to vet traditional in-person schools for their quality, you should do the same for any online schools you consider.