How do degrees from online schools stack up with hiring managers?

How does a degree from an online university stack up against one from a traditional institution when it comes to hiring time?

A TechRepublic member recently emailed me with this question:

I had a question about applicants who have attended online universities like University of Phoenix, DeVry, etc. Do hiring managers honor these degrees, or are they more likely to go with an applicant who went to a traditional school?

I know I sound like a broken record every time a question is asked about IT degrees, schools, or certifications, but the answer remains the same—it depends.

It depends on the individual perception of the person looking at the resumes. Even with a degree from an accredited online school under your belt, you could be at a disadvantage. This is because the competition for an IT job is really stiff now. If yours is the only resume received by a hiring manager, you might get an interview. If the hiring manager has six other resumes besides yours and the applicants have four-year degrees from traditional schools, then he or she may consider the latter degrees more valuable. It depends on the personal experience and perceptions of that person.

Your credibility as a graduate of an online university also depends on the school. UoP is well-known and regionally accredited, which helps with its reputation. Some online schools, however, can be a rip-off, which unfairly taints things for all the others since some employers don't differentiate between good online schools and bad.

Having said that, however, I should say that some institutions already respected for their traditional programs, such as Notre Dame, Tulane, Stanford, Villanova, and Stevens Institute of Technology have been experimenting with online offerings as well. So it may be that the overall perception of online education will change as time goes on.

I asked an HR recruiter, Tim Heard, to also weigh in on this question. He said:

Degrees are funny things. I have clients who are adamant that an individual must have one, even if the person has an amazing track record that spans years of success in one's field. Personally, I think that a degreeĀ  is important only if a candidate is somewhat light on experience. Even then, with respect to IT professionals, I'd tend to recommend specific training relating to one's career path, rather than going for something like an MBA program from an online university.

With respect to how degree programs are viewed, there's certainly a pecking order. I helped screen MBA candidates not long ago for a leadership program that a large employer has implemented, and almost all of the candidates were from universities with exceptional academic reputations. On the other hand, sometimes an employer isn't concerned about the institution, but rather wants to make sure that their managers all have exposure to the basic training offered in an MBA program.

Here's the pecking order, which is fairly common sense:

  • A degree is better than not having one (but with some employers is not a big deal one way or another).
  • An MBA or other advanced degree is better than simply having a BS or BA.
  • An MBA from a brick and mortar school is generally perceived as better than an online MBA.
  • A PhD, if you're an IT professional, is generally not a good thing, because PhDs are often considered to be too interested in the theory and academics to actually produce in a fast-paced work environment.


Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

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