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Article: Online universities fight stigma

by JENNA RUSSELL (The Boston Globe, Nov. 8th, 2004)

The majority of online students are already employed, and use their degrees for career advancement. But are they as valuable to employers as degrees earned on campus?

While recent surveys of university leaders find most are convinced that students learn just as much in well-run online programs as in classrooms, perceptions remain mixed in the corporate world. Even when online degrees are awarded by well-established, brick-and-mortar universities, they may be seen as different or less valuable by some employers.

At the Five O'Clock Club, a national career counseling and job placement firm based in New York, chief operating officer Richard Bayer said he advises clients not to mention it if they earned degrees online, because such degrees are often seen as less prestigious.

"Employers prefer a traditional path, where you've gone to school," said Richard Bayer, the firm's chief operating officer. ''There really is something to being there physically, talking with your instructor, your peers, in a class setting, so understandably there is a bias in favor of the traditional route."

Many schools, including the University of Massachusetts, make no distinction in students' transcripts between degrees earned online and on campus, and employers typically don't ask, although the topic may come up in interviews.

Jeremy Brown, 27, a data analyst in Dallas who is earning an online MBA from UMass and describes the program as rigorous, said he expects few questions about his degree because it won't look different to the people reading his resume. "I don't think employers know it's an online degree," he said. "It is what it is: an MBA."

Brown, whose company is paying for his studies, said he steered clear of the University of Phoenix because he wanted to avoid the ''stigma" of a for-profit institution.

A recent survey of human resources executives by the Online University Consortium found most prefer online degrees from traditional universities to those from online-only schools. But David Leasure, vice president for academic affairs at online-only Jones International University, said he has never heard any student complain that employers wouldn't accept his degree.

"There are skeptics out there, every student knows one, and our response is that online degrees are held to a higher standard," he said. "Our students are probably spending 16 to 18 hours per week on each course. This is not a pay-your-fee, get-your-B kind of thing."

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