Don't flame me too hard in the comments - hate the game, not the player. I thought the question was worth talking about. A few weeks back, I put up a question from a reader wondering whether she should pursue certification or go back and get a masters in HR. I told her a Master's in HR, while valuable, was worth less to her career-wise than a MBA.
So what about it? Are online degrees the real deal or diploma mills?
Here's my rank order of the best options to get a degree, or an advanced degree. Note, I am not slicing and dicing the quality of traditional universities as part of this post. I get that Ivy league schools are good and the junior college around the corner isn't known for its pre-med. Here's how I would rank my impression of 4-year or graduate options for the discriminating worker/scholar:
- Choice #1- Traditional University, 4 Year School (you attend on a campus)
- Choice #2 - Combo online/weekend program, traditional 4-Year University
- Choice #3 - Franchise School (my term for the mcUniversities that are popping up in Suburbia, like Strayer University, maybe a Devry - you attend most of your classes, but it's not affiliated with a four-year program)
- Choice #4 - Online Program from a school with brand recognition, like a University of Phoenix
- Choice #5 - Any online program other than that of a 4-year school or the University of Phoenix. Most have directional sounding names that end with something besides a state, maybe a PO Box. "Southwestern Pacific", "International Bailiff Academy" - something like that.
As the commenter to the post mentioned above outlined, the University of Phoenix has had some issues in the past year (outlined by the NYT here), so it still needs to be "buyer beware."
If online is your flavor, I would do anything I could to stick with an online curriculum affiliated with a traditional program. Once you have the degree, no one will care whether it was online or traditional - they'll just note the degree from the school.
Another huge warning sign. If you are getting an undergraduate in 2 years, when it takes traditional mortals 4-5 years, your degree is probably not going to perceived as real. My take on graduate degrees? Anything less than 2 years and 50-60 credit hours is going to be treated in a hostile fashion as well. I'll simply ask candidates conversationally how long it took them to complete and how many hours were required - that tells me what I need to know. If they don't know how many credit hours it was - well, that REALLY tells me what I need to know.
Just because you have an online degree doesn't mean you didn't learn anything. Learning's a state of mind as much as it is a program. You just have to be ready to convey the value of what you learned to someone who cares - like an interviewer.