Is an Online Business Degree Legit?
Thinking about returning to school in order to boost your pay and prestige? Education is one of the very best investments you can make in your career. But does an online business get the respect it deserves? Ultimately, is an online business degree legit?
Good news: Online learning has gone mainstream, and employers know it. From aspiring accountants to MBA wannabes, more than 10 million students took at least one online class in 2015 according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.
Still, not all online degrees are created equal, and it's important to do your homework before you choose a program. We've compiled answers to the most common questions about whether an online business program is worth the time and energy you'll invest.
Will employers automatically put my résumé in the "reject" stack when they see that I earned my degree online?
It's unlikely. Hiring managers are less concerned about the method of delivery and more apt to focus on a school's reputation, according to Judith Phillips, the force behind GetEducated.com and an online education analyst for 20 years. She has conducted studies revealing that, "…most employers are not overly concerned about how a degree was earned. They are, however, very concerned about overall school reputation and educational quality."
And there's no need to volunteer—in an interview or on your resume—that your degree was earned online. An MBA is an MBA, regardless of the method of instruction. If the topic arises in an interview, focus on the qualities that helped you succeed in the virtual environment: self-motivation, top-notch time management and great online collaboration skills.
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How important is name-brand recognition when it comes to choosing a business degree program?
Do you recognize the names of the schools you're considering for your degree? If you do, then chances are that potential employers will have heard of them, too. As you investigate degree options, include well-regarded brick-and-mortar schools in your region that also offer online classes. Familiar names with close-to-home campuses tend to play best with potential employers.
For-Profit vs. Not-for-Profit
Is there a bias against degrees from for-profit colleges?
Again, employers don't really seem to care, as long as you attended a quality school. In a study by the Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 100 percent of employers polled said "it did not matter to them whether a job candidate had earned his or her online MBA from a for-profit educational institution or a not-for-profit school, as long as the degree program was properly accredited."
What is accreditation, and what should I pay attention to?
Accreditation is a hugely important marker of quality in education. Like a seal of approval, it indicates that a school has been evaluated by an outside agency and found to meet standards for quality and rigor. Federal student loans and grants are available only to students enrolled in accredited schools.
Check to see if the school you're considering has received accreditation. This information should be included on the school's website.
But beware. Not all accreditation is created equal. The U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (a non-profit association of 3,000 degree-granting colleges and universities) recognize only a limited number of accrediting agencies. Check their websites to be sure the school you're considering has been approved by an above-board agency.
Red flag: Some unscrupulous players create their own accreditation agencies in order to make themselves look legit. Not sure if an accreditation is for real? Check the DOE or CHEA websites to see if the school you're considering has been accredited by an approved agency.
Also keep in mind the different types of accreditation:
For entire colleges/universities
The gold standard for accreditation, there are just six regional associations in the country:
- Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges
- North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges
+Credits earned at regionally accredited schools tend to transfer easily to other schools
+School reputation is usually higher
+Employer tuition reimbursement is more likely
For online education, both the DOE and CHEA include this agency on their green-light lists:
Geared specifically to online learning, this agency grants accreditation to programs with a commitment to innovation, educational excellence and student achievement.
+Credits don't transfer as readily
+School tuition tends to be less expensive
+Employers may not reimburse tuition
For business schools
The following organizations grant accreditation to business schools in the U.S. and abroad:
- ACBSP: The Accreditation Council for Collegiate Business Schools and Programs emphasizes outcomes in order to assess a school's level of teaching and excellence.
- AACSB: Widely regarded as the crème de la crème of accreditation in the business school world, the Association to Advance collegiate Schools of Business accepts fewer than 5 percent of global business programs into its ranks.
Will the school I'm considering accept the credits I've already earned?
Credit transfers vary from school to school, and depend on where and when you earned your credits. Be sure to ask if the college you're considering will apply your credits toward your goal.
Remember: Credit transfers tend to be smoothest when the credits have been earned at regionally accredited colleges.
What support services should I expect when I enroll in an online or hybrid program?
Set the bar high. "Don't go in with the expectation that you're supposed to get 'less than' because it's online," says CHEA executive director Judith Eaton. "Go in with full expectations about what you would receive from any college or university."
Ask each college you're considering about the student resources they offer:
- Are there career counseling services?
- What are the school's graduation and job placement rates?
- Does the school offer internships and/or networking opportunities with professionals in the field you're studying?
- Does the instructional staff include both part- and full-time faculty?
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Road to Success
Whether you're a desperate housewife, dissatisfied corporate worker or just looking for the next step in your career—education is the key to expanding your options. With the business world now embracing online learning, there's nothing to stop you from pursuing flexible online coursework that opens exciting new avenues in your life.
Sources: usnews.com/education/online-education/articles/2013/01/08/online-course-enrollment-climbs-for-10th-straight-year; onlinelearningconsortium.org/survey_report/2013-survey-online-learning-report; geteducated.com/careers/318-should-i-tell-employers-i-earned-my-degree-online; hbs.edu/news/releases/Pages/hbs-launches-first-online-offering-hbx.aspx; onlinelearningsurvey.com/reports/changingcourse.pdf; bloomberg.com/bw/articles/2012-07-06/employers-warm-up-to-online-mbas; usnews.com/education/online-education/articles/2013/10/16/how-to-tell-if-an-online-program-is-accredited
Photo by Steve Bartlett
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