Thursday, October 18, 2012

Can an online degree really help you get a job?

Time magazine has a great cover story this week on online education.  As the magazine underscores, online degree programs' reputations have taken a beating, thanks to unscrupulous diploma mills and a lack of respect from HR pros. That perception may finally be changing, but it still pays to be careful.

The University of Phoenix, the largest for-profit school in the United States, has been around since 1976. It has 328,000 students currently enrolled and an estimated 700,000 alumni. It offers more than 100 degree programs at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels. As of 2010 it had more than 8,000 recruiters on staff. But until very recently it had no career-counseling service for its graduating students.
That’s finally changed with the school’s new “Let’s Get to Work” initiative announced late last month: a series of online tools designed to help students figure out early on what jobs might be good for them, what employers in those fields are looking for and what skills students need to get the job. The school says it’s been working on this program for a couple of years now, but it’s probably no coincidence that it was excoriated this summer in a Senate report for doing little to help place its graduates in jobs after school. (The school is facing other problems as well: following a 60% fourth-quarter loss in net income for its parent company Apollo Group Inc., Phoenix announced Oct. 17 that it would close 115 locations — a decision that will affect some 13,000 students.) But with the national unemployment rate hovering near 8%, getting a job is exactly why many adults pursue a degree, online or otherwise. The question is: Can an online degree help you land a job at all?
The newest players in the online-education space have no problem with name recognition. Unlike the University of Phoenix, the prestigious universities behind Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs — Harvard, MIT, Stanford and Princeton among them — have ironclad academic reputations
An increasing number of students are hoping that the answer is yes. The growth in online education over the past decade has been nothing short of meteoric: a November 2011 report by the Babson Survey Research Group found that more than 6.1 million students took at least one online class during the fall of 2010, a 10% increase over the previous year and nearly four times the number of students taking online courses a decade ago. While some of these students are enrolled in traditional brick-and-mortar schools that also offer certain courses online, many others take online courses through institutions like the University of Phoenix and ITT Technical Institute, which offer a majority of their degree programs over the Internet.
Still, concerns persist over the quality of online education and the usefulness of an online degree in getting a job — although for many it is the fact that most online universities are run as for-profit entities that is the root of the issue, rather than the medium in which they teach.




The newest players in the online-education space have no problem with name recognition. Unlike the University of Phoenix, the prestigious universities behind Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs — Harvard, MIT, Stanford and Princeton among them — have ironclad academic reputations. In fact, Coursera, edX and Udacity, the three largest MOOC providers, have heard from companies who have expressed interest in hiring students who perform well in their courses.


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