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Online master’s degree becomes more widely accepted – but still faces hurdles

Earning a master’s degree from a for-profit online university may be a viable option, but many say it’s not necessarily worth the bang for your buck.

With the proliferation of people with online master’s degrees, employers and job recruiters have found that some online degrees are preferred among others.

“Traditional universities that offer online degrees are usually better than for-profit online universities,” said the vice president of a top recruiting firm in the Washington, D.C. area. “Going the traditional route is always best.”

The trick is that many traditional universities offer online degrees, but do not create a distinction on the diploma between an online degree and a traditional degree.

When asked if an online MBA from American University says “online,” Assistant Dean of Digital Initiatives and New Programs Jill Klein stated: “You get a master’s degree that says American University, and it’s the degree.”

Nowadays, many employers have raised the standards of employment, requiring employees to have advanced degrees.

“One of the things that I’ve seen since the recession, and it’s probably because there are a lot of job seekers, is that employers have added ‘master’s degree helpful’ or ‘master’s degree required,'” said the owner of a leading political staffing company in Washington, D.C.

He explained that through the eyes of employers, a candidate with a master’s degree is assumed to have better critical thinking and writing skills.

Unfortunately, many undergraduates skate through college without learning necessary skills to be successful in the workplace, the political staffer added.

For-profit online universities give job candidates a degree to get their foot in the door, many job recruiters say, but there isn’t any guarantee the degree is worth the investment.

“It enhances the pool of people who may not otherwise be looked at, but I don’t know if it puts them in the same tier as those from a traditional four year school,” said the vice president of the job-recruiting firm.

However, online degrees from for-profit universities may be valuable when complementing work experience on a résumé.

According to Joe Sinclair, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Talent Acquisitions Manager at Dixon Hughes Goodman LLP, “many working professionals have proven their ability to manage time and collaborate effectively, so an online program in their field of study might suit them very well.”

For-profit online universities are oftentimes the only option to further one’s knowledge in academia, and job recruiters said it is a reasonable route.

“People should be very aware of the organizations they are picking, and whether it will help a résumé,” emphasized the vice president of the job-recruiting firm.

Last May, The New York Times reported on an incident in which a fraudulent Pakistani online university, Axact, made millions without any accreditations.

Through Internet connections, Axact targeted those who sought to earn an advanced degree, took their money, and rewarded them with a worthless diploma.

In order to confirm whether an online degree is worth the bang for the buck and not a scam, Sinclair suggested that people should contact alumni via social media or other mediums to confirm that the degree will be beneficial with “collaboration, professional attention, and time management.”

Meanwhile, competition has grown between for-profit online universities and traditional universities offering online degrees, since they are now catering to similar audiences.

In Washington, D.C., American University’s online MBA degree is attainable to a wide range of applicants, since the admissions criteria are in reach for people who normally would not be qualified at a private, selective university. It is possible due to the “Bridge to Business” course.

Klein explained that if someone lacks “something” in his or her application but has energy and passion, he or she might be eligible for the Bridge to Business course. The course blends together accounting, economics and statistics.

“We will offer them conditional admission, and they will take the Bridge to Business course,” Klein said. “It’s really a terrific way for a prospective student who has maybe been out of the classroom for awhile and is very anxious.”

Upon receiving a B or better in the Bridge to Business course, selected applicants will be admitted into the online MBA program.

“The modality isn’t the issue. It’s where did you get the degree and did you get a degree that is recognized in the marketplace,” Klein added.

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About the Author
Austin Yack - University of California, Santa Barbara.