Are Online Degrees a Joke?

Are online degrees the educational equivalent of a brick-and-mortar campus? Or do online degrees reflect a less-serious commitment to education on the part of the degree-holder?‘s CEO Erik Sorenson recently pointed out that “Everything has moved online, including education. Though more and more Americans are getting educated online, there is still a bias toward traditional classroom education, especially for high-end careers and top-ranked companies.”

Vault’s recently conducted survey shows that while 49% of those who make hiring decisions have encountered applicants with online degrees (up from 34% in 2005), only 19% have actually hired a candidate who only possessed an online degree.

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So where you stand on this issue? How do you view online degrees now? How have your view changed in the past few years? And how you think your future self (in say, 2018?) will feel about the issue?

Elaine Rigoli has nearly 15 years of experience managing content and community for various B2B and consumer websites. Elaine has written thousands of business and technology articles and has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal and eWeek, among other publications.


26 Comments on “Are Online Degrees a Joke?

  1. My wife and I have decided to home school our kids — three next year, and the other two at some point in the future. Based on our preliminary research, most of the major universities (Harvard, for one) seem amenable to home schoolers. SAT scores, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, etc will play a more important part in our kids’ college applications — but it’s all doable.

    We all know that the current education system was designed in the 19th century to produce factory workers, and later, in the 20th century, white collar information workers who could function in vast corporate hierarchies.

    The world no longer works that way: Business (and technology) are less centralized and more distributed.

    There’s no reason that the universities shouldn’t change their models to reflect these new realities.


  2. Given how many of my undergrad courses were either taught by grad students or sleep-walking and/or politically motivated professors, I don’t see how online degrees could be any more worthless than traditional degrees. In fact, as a corporate recruiter with almost 20 years under my belt, I can attest to the sad reality that college kids today are entering the workforce with virtually no discernible skills and a minimal capacity to even think clearly. As such, I’m thinking that a different approach to higher education may not be a bad thing.

  3. You are basically teaching yourself. The instructors in the online college class do absolutely nothing but post the assignments and the grades. Yes – it is a big joke!

  4. what happens to be joke is the fact that between colleges and big cooperations have made college degrees a worthless bunch of crap. They teach you nothing that a cartoon or talking stuffed animal can’t teach you about life. 95% of all college students that get degrees have no idea what they are walking into. company’s have continued to make the “sheep skin” a requirement and have failed our kids and the country. Anyone that has been around, seen the world, truly loved someone, been in a war, and followed their heart, can tell you that history will repeat it’s self, and that there is not amount of schooling that can prepare you for life, work and family.
    People that have changed the world and truly changed the world have not been college grads did not hang a degree above the fire place. They changed the world because they were smarter then the others they stood above the rest and did something about it.
    college degree’s weather at a “building” or over the internet do no mean anything other then that fact that the person that studies over the internet really is smart enough to learn something on their own.

  5. I’m an HR professional with over 10 years exp who has been a student at both a traditional university and University of Phoenix (albeit the GROUND campus vs. online). However, I also hired the faculty at University of Phoenix in my city when it opened and what I can tell you is that UOP’s hiring standards for faculty are not only very DIFFERENT (kudos to Harry for making the 19th century comparison) but are also much more STRICT in many areas due to their desire to be “above par” as well as to provide practical application principles in adult learning theory.

    Because there is such push back, they go above and beyond in their selection criteria and I actually had to turn away faculty from “traditional” and more “prestigous” universities, because they couldn’t meet the rigor in our standards for instructors!!! Because UOP subscribes to the “adult learning” theory, they want instructers who can provide practical application, in other words, my Employment Law course was taught by an attorney at one of our premier firms in the state vs. an attorney who has been teaching out of a book for 20 years in a lecture hall with 300 students.

    The reality is that often times the true (vs. percieved) value of a degree is in direct relation to the amount of effort the student puts into it. However, quality instruction is certainly important as well – much more so than the name on the university.

    I can HONESTLY say that I received much more value from my time at UOP because what I learned from the instructors (as well as my adult peers) was practical and able to be applied directly into my work as a corporate HR professional.

    Point to note is that I was LEARNING and I wasn’t just absorbing theory or listening to a faculty member lecturing out of a book that he likely wrote for acclaim by his peers in an effort to get tenure at a university…

    Lastly however, there are plenty of online degrees that are crap and don’t offer quality instruction and that further negates the credability of the quality programs out there; and while unfortunate, it’s reality and something that people should consider when making a decision as to where to pursue an education.

  6. I obtained my undergrad at a state university, so that’s my background. With 7 years of work experience, I went back to get my MBA at a state, brick-and-mortar institution. Within the 51 hour program, 6 hours (2 classes) were online, and were- without a doubt- the absolute worst educational experience I have ever encountered. The professors were disconneceted and uninterested in the students. Also, the lack of interaction with peers was a huge detriment to the learning experience. I don’t think that online degree programs are entirely worthless, but I do think they pale in comparison to traditional programs that require face-to-face interaction, group work, and the development of communication and networking skills.

  7. If I were a hiring manager, I would not choose someone who went to college online after high school rather than going on to attend a standard brick-and-mortar university. I’m 29 years old, and as long as the majority of hiring managers are older than I am, I am sure most of them will feel the same way I do. To attend an online university is the same as enrolling in a traditional course, but skipping every class and taking your tests after just reading the textbook. This assumes the test is not also taken online. Some subjects are not learned like this. There are certain things that are experienced best through personal interaction. I can’t imagine what kind of people skills someone must have who attended an online university, attends an online church, and whose only friends are ‘virtual’ friends through Facebook and MySpace. People need to be less relient on the internet and focus more on approaching people face-to-face. I see the irony in that I am posting this online, but if I could say it in person in front of actual people, I would.

    1. EXACTLY. If you could, you would, but you can’t, so you didn’t. Instead you did it online.

      it’s the exact same thing with online university. Why do you jump straight to assuming the student is a shut in agoraphobe? Online church and only virtual friends? Why is that automatic?

      Maybe…just maybe..people go to online univ. because they are SO busy with living their lives, working their jobs, pursuing independent interests, that they literally aren’t able to squeeze in the hours on a brick and mortar campus. If they could do it in person, they would. But we can’t. So we don’t.

  8. Just make sure your online degrees are from an ACCREDITED university and recognized by the Department of Education and or the AACU. Believe it or not, you can obtain company sponsored tuition reimbursement for NON-accredited institutions on line. We had someone lose an offer last month because their degree was NOT from an ACCREDITED institution.

    Carolyn Thompson


    Pinnacle Society Member ( The Pinnacle Society is the nation’s premier consortium of Top Recruiters within the permanent placement and search industry. Since 1989, membership in the Pinnacle Society is limited to 75 of the nation’s top recruiters.

  9. I teach at a college level..and I so do believe college is a waste of time. Life experience is the best. I was forced to got to school back in the 80s when i was not getting any type of opportunity. I say, if the person has talent, hire him regardless if he has a degree.

  10. I am the recruiter for a small pharmacutical company. Pretty much when we have a applicant with a online degree it gets filed in file 13 and forgotten about. There is no proof that person actually did the work themselves. They could have had a friend complete the course under their name. Online degrees are worthless. To our company we feel its somebody who isn’t smart enough to go to a real college and they paid alot of money for a worthless piece of paper.

    1. Melissa you are so right. I know a gentleman who said quote…” I have 300 degrees none of which have my name on them”. He is a ghost scholar. In other words gets paid to get degrees for people for these bogus online schools. I’d never hire one under any circumstances.

  11. It’s interesting that so many people will belittle an institution or a degree because it’s online. I’ve attended 2 colleges, a brick and mortar school where I completed an Associate degree and Kaplan University online where I am currently working towards a BS in Criminal Justice. My traditional school’s classes were taught by professors that had taught for a long time and knew how to teach the course material. At Kaplan my courses are taught by people with alot of actual experience in the field. For instance, my Criminal Investigation class is taught by a professor who retired after 25 years with the Chicago P.D. as a detective. He is so much more knowledgable about the subject than most teachers at my last school. The coursework is solid and I know I am getting a thorough education. In comparison, my online education is every bit as good as a traditional college and in ways better. It’s a shame the hiring world hasn’t opened it’s eyes yet.

  12. Great topic!

    Many of those whom have attended traditional colleges tend to look down at online college degrees for various reasons. While working a full time position back in 2003 and working towards a management role, I was required to attain a bachelor’s degree as part of the requirement by the parent company and HR for holding a formal management title. I decided to go to the University of Phoenix campus down the street from work in Brookfield, WI where I took instructor led classed three nights a week, four hours each night. In addition to those hours, we were broken up into teams to work many hours outside class to either meet in person or online to create papers and presentations which was at least another 18 hours a week in addition to the 12 in the classroom. Not included was the time spend on individual research papers, assignments and presentations. To say this was a heavy load in addition to working 40-60 hours a week and having a family is an UNDERSTATEMENT. I graduated with a degree in Business Management in 2006. Walking across the stage to receive my diploma was the one of the most rewarding feelings of accomplishment I had had next to marrying the love of my life and watching the birth of all three of my children.

    I have never take the online patch that University of Phoenix offers, but I know people whom have and share experiences. Based of what I found, the online seems a bit easier and let time involved in addition to the lack of regular face time with the instructor which in invaluable. These are just my opinions from observations and discussions. Your experiences might be different.

    My challenge as I interview and network is facing the stigma that the University of Phoenix is a fly by night cheap way to get a degree and I beg to differ and if given the chance explain that this was on campus vs. online which typically raises eyebrows as many hiring managers think they only do online programs.

  13. So for the most part recruiters and hiring managers are not willing to hire someone with an online degree. What I don’t understand is this. You are not willing to hire someone who actually had the motivation and discipline to obtain a degree while they had to juggle the rigors of life. Some people may be single moms or dads that had to take online college classes because maybe they cannot afford the sitter or whatever. But yet those people to me have more discipline are probably smarter and are willing to do what it takes to get the job done. How come pigheaded people cannot get this through their thick skulls. I am a hiring manager and I look at the whole person concept. I mean really some young kid who probably spent mom and dads money over the last four years that is single and fresh off campus? Or would you rather have someone a little older who has been around a few years has a family and knows the worth of having a job? Just my 2 cents.

  14. I’m kind of torn on this issue. I’d be very concerned about obtaining an online degree because of the cost and the potential for it to be tossed aside for someone who took their classes at a traditional college. I just earned a AA degree at a community college and am working on a classes toward a B.S. in nursing at a traditional university. There are simply some fields where I don’t think an online degree makes sense (Nursing being one).

    I have taken online classes offered through my college and honestly, I can’t say I’ve gotten a whole lot out of them. I just don’t think you can substitute person to person education with a computer screen.

    I am an older student with two children, a husband and a household to take care of… if I can make it to the classroom anyone can.

    I also find it fascinating that a high school drop-out can not earn a GED online, in any state. The test requires you sit in person with appropriate identification in a setting that is as secure as Fort Knox. So why is it you can not earn a GED online but you can a full fledged college degree? Just some food for thought.

  15. I have attended both types of schools. My brick and mortar experience involved bored professors, incompetent undergrads,classes of hundreds in a lecture hall, and many many students did not do their own work. The only upside to the experience was that you did get experience working with real people, although that wasn’t always a positive.

    My online experience had it’s share of drawbacks too, but all in all, I felt that I got more out of the online courses, because I had to dig for the information. However, the online credits are not transferable, the better schools are still very expensive, and oh yes, they have zero value in the workplace, which I think is elitist crap. We have pushed the college requirement so far that some companies even require a degree to start in the mailroom, and they still want employees to start at barely above minimum wage. So far, I have found college to be an expensive and useless experiment.

  16. College is not just classrooms, grades, teachers and books. College teaches people about more in life. Its a once in a life time deal that was a lot of fun. If one is to play sports in college like I did, it takes on another side of an experience, to be an NCAA athlete. If someone has never attended a University, they have no idea what life changing events happen during that time. Since my undergrad I have taken a class or two online. But college is an expeirence in itself, and I feel bad for people who dont get to enjoy such times in their life.

  17. Hi,
    I am pretty sure that the online degrees are not a joke and it depends form which online site are you getting the degree form. So you should opt for the ones that are from some recognized universities.
    LPN online

  18. I got an AA in Business Administration from one of the highly marketed, popular on-line degree programs. Thank god my employer paid for it. Total joke. Everything is a a take-home test and the class average is an A every time in every course (you’d think they’d mix it up a bit to at least appear legit). Instructor interaction is virtually nil. Anyone who has worked a real job knows online degrees are not highly regarded. Until these programs introduce significantly more advanced communications technology, and start using proctored facilities (e.g. SAT), they’re just impossible to take seriously.

    1. Oh and, this school IS ACCREDITED by a legitimate accrediting body. Don’t be fooled. You’re better off going to your local community college than paying outrageous prices for one of the national online degree programs.

  19. As long as that online degree is accredited regionally, you learn the same things as long as the school is legit. I will agree that some online degrees are too plain easy, and it pretty much depends on the lecturer. I will also say that the quality of the institute one goes to matters. For example going to the University of Timbuktu versus UCLA obviously as differences and will probably put a student ahead.

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