The reality behind recruiting employees with online degrees

Posted May 13, 2015 by
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Mark Turpin, CEO of The HT Group

How do you compare online degrees with traditional diplomas? Find out why companies’ acceptance of online degrees held by job candidates is growing.

From Penn State to the University of Miami, online degrees have never before been available from such a large and diverse group of institutions. Whether these schools are public or private and have physical college campuses or not, the questions that arise when you’re looking at job candidates remain the same. How do you tell the difference between online and traditional degrees, and at the end of the day, does it really matter?

Keeping Up With the Times

As recently as 10 years ago, relatively few institutions offered fully online degree programs, but the popularity of online learning has skyrocketed. A 2012 report by the Online Learning Consortium found that 62.4 percent of colleges offered fully online degree programs – up from just 32.5 percent in 2002.

Perceptions of online degrees are shifting as well. According to a survey published by the Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration in 2012, more than half of hiring managers from a cross-sectional sample of industries admitted to valuing online degrees less than traditional degrees. But as Bloomberg points out, acceptance of online degrees is on the rise. Jeffrey Bailey, one of the authors of the aforementioned survey, puts it best:

“One person I interviewed made the comment that if I had asked five years ago, the answer would be different… Things are changing because more people [who] have gone through online programs are out working in the business world and doing well, which gives the degree more credibility.”

If you are among the hiring managers and recruiters still holding a bias against online degrees, you could be missing out on some major opportunities. At the same time, it’s important to keep the three key steps listed below in mind when recruiting job candidates.

1. Knowing the Score

U.S. News & World Report now publishes annual rankings of the best online degree programs. A quick look at the 2015 rankings shows that Pennsylvania State University – which ranks among the top 1 percent of traditional universities worldwide –also has the No. 1 online bachelor’s degree program.

These new rankings allow you to compare online degrees in the same way that recruiters have long compared traditional degrees. As the Phoenix Business Journal recently reported, Arizona State University’s offering is tied for the 8th-best online bachelor’s program, while the nearby University of Phoenix trails behind in 82nd place. The ability to compare online degrees this way is a game changer, and whether a degree was acquired online now has little or nothing to do with its quality.

2. Understanding Accreditation

Not all online degree programs are equal, but don’t let a few bad apples spoil the whole batch. Among the biggest barriers to widespread acceptance of online degrees are the so-called “diploma mills” that hand out degrees almost indiscriminately to anyone willing to pay for one. While a handful of these offenders still exist, many modern online degree programs have been proven to be just as valid as their offline counterparts.

How do you tell the difference? The key is accreditation. Online degree programs can be accredited just like traditional degree programs. Take the University of Texas at Austin: It offers a Master of Science in Technology Commercialization degree online through the McCombs School of Business. This online degree program has an excellent reputation and is accredited through the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), just like the traditional degree from the same school.

The National Center for Education Statistics provides a College Navigator tool that makes it easy to check the accreditation of a job candidate’s alma mater, ensuring that you never have to lower your standards when you consider someone with an online degree.

3. Leaving Your Biases Behind

Once you’ve checked out an online institution’s accreditation and program rankings, what separates an online degree from a traditional degree? As it turns out, not much. The quality of the institution is far more important than whether a degree was earned in a classroom or online, and despite the reputation of online degrees as a cheap alternative, U.S. News reports that many online programs cost just as much as their traditional equivalents, if not more.

It makes little sense to look down one’s nose at job candidates with online degrees when, as a 2014 Learninghouse survey showed, most students approach online schools in much the same way recruiters do, focusing on accreditation and the reputation of the university over cost and convenience.

What side of the fence do you fall on? Do you still feel there are credible reasons to pass over candidates with online degrees? If so, there’s no telling what opportunities you may be missing.


With more than 15 years in the staffing industry, Mark Turpin brings a fresh perspective to staffing that urged Turpin and his partners to create a staffing firm that tailors solutions to a business’ individual needs, proactively builds and maintains a strong candidate pool and builds ongoing relationships with clients and candidates. As The HT Group CEO, Turpin leads operations to ensure the company delivers cost-effective, high-value, low-risk solutions for clients’ traditional, professional and technical staffing needs.

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