Legitimacy of Online Learning Institutions

Introduction/Thesis Statement

With increased technological advances, economic tantrums, fast changing lifestyles, the geographic spread and the increased need for employers to improve the competencies and academic qualifications, the demand for online education programs has become popular over the last two decades (Adams, DeFleur & Heald, 2007; Hartman, 2007). The institutions offering online degree, diploma and certificate programs have proliferated in the education landscape in order to tap into this market (Hartman, 2007). According to the recent studies, the number of online colleges offering diverse programs ranging from certificates to doctoral degress in various fields has reached over 200 (Caudron, 2011). Caudron (2011) further noted that even though the number of online academic institutions is constantly on the rise, only a few of the programs are accredited.

According to Adams et al. (2007), most of the distance learning students make large investments on online degree programs with an aim of attaining the desired credential and a high-quality Return on Investments (RI). Most of the employees go for online degrees to attain the required job qualifications as well as to cultivate lifelong learning attitudes (Hartman, 2007). Online degree programs also enable such students to overcome geographical barriers and fulltime responsibilities that accompany the job assignments (Hartman, 2007). The online degrees have also helped the minority students to access the degree programs without going through discriminations most of them experience in the traditional classrooms (Caudron, 2011).

Despite continuous need to attain online degrees and other credentials, the nature of employment requirements has caused students to take into greater consideration on whether online degrees they receive would later translate into formidable careers (Caudron, 2011; Hartman, 2007). The manner in which these online degrees translate into formidable career depend on the hiring practices, the employers attitudes towards the online degree programs as well as the organizations hiring “gatekeeper’s” analysis (Hartman, 2007; Adams et al., 2007; Carnevale, 2007). As such, this paper will argue that the legitimacy of online learning institutions such as ‘Everest” as opposed to a traditional learning institutes such as “Brock” is just as valid when employers look at viable candidates for a job role as evidenced by employment opportunities, pay grade comparisons, and job level grade upon entry into the company of employment after graduation.

Therefore, this study will be examining the discernments of prospective managers of various companies as well as the opinion of organizations’ hiring agents regarding institutions offering online degree compared with the colleges and universities offering degrees in the form of conventional design. The significance of this study is that it will add to body of academic knowledge. In addition, the higher learning institutions understanding of how these attitudes and perceptions affect the students’ employment opportunities will enable them reconstitute the manner in which they offer their degree programs. Furthermore, the knowledge gained from this study would be useful in the field of academic knowledge especially by the potential online students. The online students, as consumer of online learning, will find the information from this study useful in making informed choices concerning the degree attainment course.

Methodology

In the methodology, the selection on the literatures, definition of the key terms and their implications will be discussed.

Literature Selection

In the literature review, empirical studies on institutions offering online degrees against the traditional academic institutions will be reviewed. Besides, studies concerning the perception of potential employers regarding the online degree programs would be examined. The research questions that would guide the review of the relevant literature include:

  • What does the literature say concerning the employers’ perceptions on online institutions and the degree programs they offer?
  • How do employers compare the traditional education format and the online degree programs and the academic institutions that offer such degree programs?

The questions would be explored through a review of relevant literature drawn from four databases ranging from Academic Source Complete (ASC 2005-2014) to ProQuest databases (2005-2014). Within the continuum is the Business Source Complete (BSC 2005-2014). The key terms used ranged from the online degrees to employers perception. As indicated, only credible literature from the databases will be consulted.

Definitions of Key Terminology and their Application

Online institutions

Online institutions are establishments that offer online courses ranging from the certificate to doctoral programs (Guendoo, 2008; Carnevale, 2007). Online academic institutions have become popular due to increased demand of online learning (Guendoo, 2008). Besides, the traditional academic institutions are continuously adopting online programs in their curriculum (Guendoo, 2008; Carnevale, 2007). In fact, the current trend in the traditional education format is a hybrid form of offering degree programs. The hybrid form of offering degree is a situation where the institutions partly offer the online learning services while maintaining the traditional education format (Guendoo, 2008; Carnevale, 2007). With increased popularity of online degrees, employers are seriously putting a lot of consideration on these institutions while hiring candidates for a particular job assignment (Hartman, 2007; Guendoo, 2008; Carnevale, 2007)

Online degrees

Online degrees are course programs that are exclusively offered online (Guendoo, 2008; Carnevale, 2007). According to Guendoo (2008), the course contents of the online degree programs are offered online fully. The students and their instructors actually meet online. However, an opportunity to interact directly or one-on-one is occasionally available (Guendoo, 2008; Caudron, 2011; Hartman, 2007; Carnevale, 2007). Essentially, online courses exhibit online learning in which the student-to-student and students-to-teachers’ interactions are undertaken online (Caudron, 2011; Hartman, 2007). Learning interactions are normally carried out through the discussion boards (Guendoo, 2008). Online learning is a significant component of online degrees (Caudron, 2011).

Characteristics of online learning

Currently, the degree programs are offered in various options and delivery modes (Guendoo, 2008; Caudron, 2011; Hartman, 2007). One of the methods through which the degree programs are offered is online, traditional or minor Web-Facilitated as well as hybrid in which the programs are offered in both online and traditional methods (Guendoo, 2008; Caudron, 2011; Hartman, 2007; Carnevale, 2007). According to Hartman (2007), the online degree programs are offered through the following channels:

  • Minor Web-Facilitated where the courses are offered through WebCT (Hartman, 2007). In fact, through this facility about 29% of the course content is offered online (Hartman, 2007). In most cases, minor web facilitated are offered to support the traditional blackboard and face-to-face format (Hartman, 2007).
  • In Hybrid system, the online courses are offered through WebCT as well as fully online (Hartman, 2007). Through this program, about 30 to 70 percent of the courses are offered online (Hartman, 2007). In online, over 80% of the programs are offered online (Hartman, 2007). In fact, the course contents are exclusively offered online.

While these characteristics remains critical components of online learning processes, most of the institutions that offer online degree programs make comparison of the quality of the degrees they offer with the traditional institutions (Caudron, 2011; Hartman, 2007). However, most of the traditional institutions have complimented their programs with online. Studies indicate that over 40% of the degrees offered traditionally are also offered online. Besides, over 90% of institutions offering traditional bachelor degrees also offer such degree programs online.

Employers’ Perceptions

The important question that most distant-learning students often ask is how the employer will perceive the degree attained online. In fact, this question not only lingers in the minds of many distant-learning students but also the institutions that offer such degree programs (Adams et al., 2007; Caudron, 2011; Hartman, 2007). Some employers would argue that a degree is a degree given the fact that most employees would still go for further training in order to be acquainted with the specific job (Adams et al., 2007; Caudron, 2011; Hartman, 2007; Carnevale, 2007). The idea is that the minimum qualification for a particular job is the degree no matter the institution the candidate receives the degree (Adams et al., 2007; Carnevale, 2007). However, some employers would put a lot of emphasis on particular institutions especially the traditional colleges from where they would recruit their candidates (Adams et al., 2007; Caudron, 2011; Hartman, 2007; Carnevale, 2007).

Studies indicate that majority of employers would go for the latter. The reason is that employers still lack trust and familiarity with the online degree programs (Adams et al., 2007; Caudron, 2011; Hartman, 2007). Compared with the traditional design of offering degrees, the online style of offering degree are relatively new and have been in existence just for two decades. As such, most employers are not yet familiar with the way such programs are provided and the level of skills the students gain (Adams et al., 2007; Caudron, 2011; Hartman, 2007; Carnevale, 2007). However, the employers are getting acquainted with such programs.

According to the recent studies, over 61 percent of the CEOs surveyed online agreed that they are familiar with online degree programs (Hartman, 2007; Carnevale, 2007). Besides, about 83% of the CEOs also agree that the degree programs awarded online are credible and should be considered just the same way as the traditional degrees (Adams et al., 2007; Caudron, 2011; Hartman, 2007; Carnevale, 2007). However, factors such as accreditation, the name of institutions awarding the degree programs and the quality of degrees offered should be taken into consideration while qualifying a candidate for a particular job (Adams et al., 2007; Caudron, 2011; Hartman, 2007; Carnevale, 2007).

However, majority of the employers are still privy of the institutions that exclusively offer distance learning without offering the traditional programs (Adams et al., 2007). Attaining an online degree from an institution that offers both traditional and online programs is an added advantage to the candidate (Caudron, 2011; Hartman, 2007). The traditional college attendance is an additional ingredient for accreditation. Majority of the candidates that have been surveyed also report the same feelings. In fact, the main argument is that online degrees should be added with the traditional programs or simply attained from colleges that offer both programs (Adams et al., 2007; Caudron, 2011; Hartman, 2007; Carnevale, 2007).

However, not all feel the same way. A bout 20% of the CEO surveyed report that they would not employ a candidate with online degree even in the circumstances that they have what it takes to accomplish the given task (Hartman, 2007; Carnevale, 2007). The type of resentment emanates from the feeling that students attaining the online degrees only receive a portion of their learning experience (Adams et al., 2007; Caudron, 2011; Hartman, 2007). However, most of the views are based on subjectivity (Adams et al., 2007). Most of the CEOs having such views are somewhat subjective in their judgement of the candidates. The reason is that certain group of people cannot make everyday class attendance yet they have to upgrade their skills and competencies (Caudron, 2011). Such kinds of employees have to attain their degree programs online. Even the CEOs would opt for online degrees in order to accommodate the issue of lack of time to attend classes’ everyday.

In fact, online degree programs are structured in such a manner that adult learners with busy schedules would earn a degree without necessarily going to campus (Adams et al., 2007; Caudron, 2011; Hartman, 2007; Carnevale, 2007). Besides, studies indicate that studying online is just as effective as studying through the traditional system (Adams et al., 2007; Caudron, 2011; Hartman, 2007; Carnevale, 2007). In the case of adult students, the options are either studying part-time or online. However, online programs have greater advantages given the fact that the students have increased access to good materials (Adams et al., 2007; Caudron, 2011; Hartman, 2007; Carnevale, 2007). The students have a constant connection to the instructor and fellow students. For students that are disengaged, the online learning is more beneficial compared with the classroom learning (Adams et al., 2007; Caudron, 2011; Hartman, 2007; Carnevale, 2007).

The Perception of the Hiring Agents

In this study, the hiring agents would sometimes be called “gatekeepers”. The gatekeepers are the very first people to be met by a candidate during the interviews (Hartman, 2007; Carnevale, 2007). In most cases, they are the HR managers, the receptionists or hiring agents on behalf of firms (Caudron, 2011; Hartman, 2007; Carnevale, 2007). The perception of these hiring agents on the qualifications based on distant learning is also significant factor to consider while determining whether institutions that offer online learning should be considered during the recruitment procedures (Adams et al., 2007; Caudron, 2011; Hartman, 2007; Carnevale, 2007).

The hiring agents hold similar view to the CEOs. Studies indicate that the hiring agents would consider hiring a candidate with online degrees from institutions that offer both the traditional and online programs (Adams et al., 2007; Caudron, 2011; Hartman, 2007; Carnevale, 2007). Studies indicate that about 75% of the hiring agents still consider online degrees from institutions without the classroom forms of class-attendance as being incredible (Adams et al., 2007; Caudron, 2011; Hartman, 2007; Carnevale, 2007). In addition, most of the gatekeepers argue that the online candidates feel inferior to their traditional degree holders’ counterparts (Adams et al., 2007; Caudron, 2011; Hartman, 2007; Carnevale, 2007). The meaning is that most of these candidates do not have trust in their qualifications. However, the qualifications from accredited institutions, whether online or traditional, are the same (Adams et al., 2007; Caudron, 2011; Hartman, 2007; Carnevale, 2007).

Like in the case of CEOs, factors such as accreditation, the name of institutions awarding the degree programs and the quality of degrees offered are also be taken into consideration while qualifying a candidate for a particular job (Adams et al., 2007; Caudron, 2011; Hartman, 2007; Carnevale, 2007). The hiring agents have also been found to hold similar resentments concerning the online degrees with CEOs. In fact, the hiring agents also argued that the students attaining the online degrees only receive a portion of their learning experience (Adams et al., 2007; Caudron, 2011; Hartman, 2007; Carnevale, 2007). Nevertheless, as argued before, most of the views are not objective and are based on personal feelings and opinions.

Suggestions for Future Research

As can be observed from the literature, much of the studies have concentrated on the perceptions the employers have on the online degree programs. In fact, majority still have a subjective view of the accreditations received online. Moreover, the online degrees are still associated with the old academic institutions that offer the degree programs through the conventional designs. In other words, institutions that offer exclusively online degree programs have not been trusted by the potential employers. As such, there is need for studies to be conducted on the credibility of these institutions offering online degree programs. In addition, future research is needed to determine the level of skills the students gaining online degrees have regarding specific job assignments. The type of institution offering online degree programs and the level of competency the students gain from such programs have been the area of concern to most of the managers and hiring agents. While the studies on these areas have not been explicit, this study would add more knowledge in these disciplines. However, as indicated, further research should be conducted using variety of variables in order to have a comprehensive understanding and trust on the institutions offering online degree programs.

References

Adams, J., DeFleur, M., & Heald, G. (2007). The acceptability of a doctoral degree earned online as a credential for health professionals. Communication Education, 56(3), 292-307.

Carnevale, D. (2007). Employers often distrust online degrees: Some say they prefer job applicants who earned diplomas the old-fashioned way. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 53(18), 28-29.

Caudron, S. (2011). Evaluating e-degrees. Workforce, 80(2), 44-49.

Guendoo, L. (2008). Community colleges friendlier to online PhDs. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration. 11 (3), 49-54.

Hartman, K. (2007). Major employers embrace online degrees. Distance Learning Today, 1(2), 12-13.