Employers and Community-College Students Aren’t Sold on Online Degrees, Survey Finds

As more and more students turn to online education for convenience, the notion of an online degree has become more commonplace. Continuing education, institutions like the University of Phoenix, and the growing number of MOOCs available all contribute to this growing norm in higher education. But a new survey shows that community-college students and employers may not trust an online degree as much as they trust a traditional one.

Public Agenda, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that focuses on education, health care, and energy, conducted a survey of more than 600 employers in four major cities and found that 56 percent of the employers preferred an applicant with a traditional degree from an average college to one with an online degree from a top institution. Only 17 percent said they would prefer an applicant with an online degree.

And of the 200 community-college students surveyed, 42 percent said they had learned less from online courses than they had from learning in the classroom.

Carolin Hagelskamp, director of research at Public Agenda, said some of the main reasons for the findings are employers’ own educational backgrounds and students’ frustrations with online classes.

She said one of the most interesting findings was that community-college students disputed the idea that online courses were more convenient and easier than traditional courses. According to the survey, students said not only were the online classes harder but they learned less.

“There was a clear sense that it’s harder” to take online courses, Ms. Hagelskamp said.

She said the survey data show that the online course model might not be the “catch-all” approach that many academics and students believe it to be.

“It raises a red flag,” she said.

As for employers, the hesitation over online degrees represents more of a technological generation gap, according to Ms. Hagelskamp. Many employers have never taken an online course and can’t necessarily relate to applicants who have, she said. Employers said they didn’t dismiss the idea of online education completely but were “waiting to see what will happen.”

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