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Traditional School Degrees Versus Online School Degrees

Updated on September 15, 2018

Conclusions after Long Study

The intended audience for my articles on online degrees is clear: both hiring managers and students. After reading a few dozen scientifically based articles in the last two weeks on the topic, this is what has become clear:

* A degree is valuable only if it is PERCEIVED to be valuable by hiring managers.

* Hiring managers should hire the PERSON, not the degree.

* The only exceptions to the above 2 items are HIGHLY competitive branding and recruitment programs which produce superior talent for one reason: THEY STARTED WITH SUPERIOR TALENT.

* There exists a real, (unfounded) bias against online degrees. This will make it slightly more difficult to find a job.

So, in conclusion, here is my advice:

1. Hiring managers should actually test applicants in basic skills. A GRE score may be a greater predictor of ability than gpa or alma mater. Once in, specific corporate practices, skills, and tools should be taught. General Electric is famous for it's in-house leadership training program.

2. A prospective student should work to get into a highly competitive program. Though they have less chance of getting in, they have a much greater chance of graduating than at other programs.

3. If you are already working, an online degree is better than no degree at all. This is especially true if your new degree will make you promotable or automatically increase your pay in your CURRENT job.

4. Work hard. Once you get into a job, online degree or traditional degree, your success depends on your basic abilities in reading, writing, math, and resourcing. Your gpa and alma mater will have very little effect.

A Challenger to Online School Validity

The crusade of this particular hiring manager is all pro-campus. Yet, statements against well documented support of distance learning as producing quality applicants for jobs were simply that - statements. No support, research, studies, or logical progression of ideas were presented. I believe the stance of many against online schools is based in something other than reason. Repeatedly, I give fact. Still, HRM professionals prefer to hire traditional degree holders.

Although this former HRM hiring committee member backtracked, and hedged a general assault on online degrees by reducing the insult to "diploma mills", other aspects of her pro-campus articles revealed her true position. Why else would anyone advocate doing online only if you can do it to receive a traditional campus name on the diploma? And to then hide that fact by not mentioning it in interviews? Clearly, those who advise this strategy believe, and promote, the idea that online learning is second-rate. Further, this detractor declined repeated challenges to name the "diploma mill" degrees on the applications which were thrown in the trash.

In my opinion, it is a poorly trained hiring manager, who does a disservice to his/her employer, who allows a bias to eliminate quality applicants for open positions. Competencies of online degree holders compared to traditional program holders are very similar. The online pool outscores the traditional pool in many aspects relevant to successful employment. To support my position that HR managers who throw away applications are poorly trained, I return to the case of the hiring committee member who laughed at "diploma mill" degrees listed on applicant's resumes, and then trashed those applications. That is breaking Federal Law:

Civil Rights Act Requirements

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. As part of the act, employers must keep various employment records, including job applications, for any permanent positions for one year from the date the application was received. -

In addition to subjecting an employer to very real risk, HRM staff almost certainly short-sheet the entire company with out-of-hand disregard for online degrees, or rather "diploma mills" (which I believe too many poorly-trained staff use synonymously with "online degrees"). As I show in Is it Illegal to Outright Reject Online Degrees?, there is very likely a lawsuit brewing against a company that ignores those applicants as official or unofficial practice. And, in Online Degree vs Traditional Degree, I lay out the study-based argument that the two are nearly equal, with a slight edge in favor of the online degree holder.

Uneducated Depracation of Online Degrees

In several articles, I have layed out why distance learning degree programs produce talent as good as, or slightly better than, traditional degrees. I have used psychology and scientific research to back up my findings. I have quoted a professional consultant who has made the same conclusion regarding advanced MBA degrees: they make no difference in success. The important criteria is the actual person, not the degree. I provided links to ease verification by anyone seeking the best knowledge to remain competitive in hiring.

In this process, a detractor, who plainly stated that she laughed at online degree holders, and threw their applications into the trash, began to aggressively post negative comments to these enlightening papers. This article responds to some challenges made by this detractor, which unfortunately remain common in the human resource management field. I also more directly state the findings of my research in what follows.

Online Degree GPA vs Traditional School GPA

Is there a difference between the average GPA of online university students compared to the average GPA of students who studied at traditional, campus-based colleges? From a poll in my article, Ashford University Review, in September, 2012, I averaged the first 39 respondent's GPAs. The average GPA of those Ashford students is 3.50 if the midpoint of the range of scores in each possible answer is used to calculate the average (which is how it should be done.)

Traditional colleges as well as distance learning have a great variation in GPA, as should be expected. The average GPA of traditional schools has climbed steadily since 1935. In that year, the average numerical grade was 2.35. Compare this to the 3.11 average in 2006. That is about a one-third increase. For an outstanding article on grade inflation trends at private and public universities: national trends in grade inflation, by Stuart Rojstaczer.

Please remember when weighing the importance of GPA when hiring or selecting a program of study: GPA has absolutely zero correlation with either promotion or income success in career paths. I recommend you read my article, Predictors of Income Success to read about the things which can actually have a strong influence on future earnings.


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    • Man from Modesto profile imageAUTHOR

      Man from Modesto 

      9 years ago from Kiev, Ukraine (formerly Modesto, California)

      Note to those reading the thread: One of the Terms of Service rules for hubpages is no personal attack against another hubber. For that reason, this hub was later revised to omit the specific name of the HRM person whose challenges I appreciated. I felt the contest made both authors' articles better. However, the rule is a good one; I agree with it.

      So, my responses may not make complete sense without the other author's comments. However, they add to the topic, so they remain. I removed the other author's comments to make my paper not a direct attack on that author, which would have been obvious were those comments to remain.

      Thank you!

    • Man from Modesto profile imageAUTHOR

      Man from Modesto 

      9 years ago from Kiev, Ukraine (formerly Modesto, California)

      If you look closely, you will see that I have blamed the organization. Specifically, I blamed the training system.

      I am correct in stating that Civil Rights law prohibits throwing away applications for any reason before one year. They must be kept for one year. Here is a link to

      Also, being related to a lawyer or even the Supreme Court Justice of the United States does not affect one's premise as more or less valid.

      Now, to everyone reading these comments: The person who thinks it is okay to throw away applications because they are from "diploma mill" degree holders, and that this is not discrimination, is a traditional, campus program PhD student. The person who just corrected that PhD candidate is an undergraduate in an online business degree tract at Ashford University.

      So, I repeat one of the basic tenets of my position: the ability of online degree holders and traditional degree holders are very, very close. The distribution of successful employees in the long run will be distributed among both classes of applicants. Recruiting the most qualified candidates for positions requires selection criteria other than elimination of all those people from programs that have -unfounded- bad reputations.

      In my opinion, and with more than 300 studies at the "No Significant Difference Phenomenon" website, considering online degrees as inferior to traditional degrees is a bias. And, any HRM staff using this belief to eliminate applications do a disservice to their organization. A better practice will be to require some sort of examination. Frito-Lay is one organization which gives an exam to applicants.

      Professional organizations require examinations before someone can work in the field. Lawyers, Engineers, doctors, CPAs, surveyors, and geologists all must pass professional examinations. Exams ensure quality.

    • Man from Modesto profile imageAUTHOR

      Man from Modesto 

      9 years ago from Kiev, Ukraine (formerly Modesto, California)

      Civil Rights DO protect you from having your application thrown away because of where you went to college, or for any reason at all! If you throw away an application for any reason at all before 1 year, that is a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

      If it was not, people could throw away applications because of any attribute they choose, and say it is for another reason.

      One last point, any critical observer of our exchange is going to note that you continue to claim you had diploma mill schools on those resumes you trashed. But, you avoid specifically naming the schools you consider diploma mills. I believe you know that you are wrong and have done wrong in your practice. Additionally, it is clear at this point that your entire philosophy that these applicants were bad is unfair.

      You say you personally experienced hiring some of those, and they all performed poorly. There is no one who can say that their performance was not influenced by a culture of expectation of failure that existed in the corporate culture where you worked.

      Statistics show quite plainly that distance learners are just as capable as traditional learners. There is the expected variance and distribution of studies and individuals. However, in aggregate, research shows that online learners are just as good as, or slightly better than, campus-taught degree holders.

      If the online degree holders in your firm were unable to thrive in the culture of your organization, why was that? If, as you say, they were all poor candidates, why were they hired? If it was for other credentials and experience, this leads back to "Why did they not succeed in the corporate culture?"

      If we are to believe that you were justified by experience, you will have to show that the cumulative data of distance learners is not a fair representation of the schools you are calling "diploma mills". If you can't do that, you are no longer worthy of being my nemesis. A good nemesis has to make the hero better at his art.

    • Man from Modesto profile imageAUTHOR

      Man from Modesto 

      9 years ago from Kiev, Ukraine (formerly Modesto, California)

      I am aware of the Senator from Iowa "investigating" Ashford University. His main focus is this: Why are most of the jobs in San Diego, not in Iowa? If he can move the jobs to Iowa, it looks good for him.

      Again, these counter-arguments are scraping the barrel. Ashford University is accredited. The accreditation has been reviewed (part of the normal schedule for all schools) since it became privately owned and started it's online program.

      The Ashford management team seems to be very proactive and forward thinking. During my two years there, I saw several improvements that make the program better.

      I hope that one day, even you, Nemesis, will be converted to realize that a candidate in the hiring pool with an online degree has the same chance of being the best candidate as the person with State University on his resume.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      If you are already working, an online degree is better than no degree at all. This is especially true if your new degree will make you promotable or automatically increase your pay in your CURRENT job.

      Nail, Hammer, Head. Your hub is right on point and I found myself agreeing all the way through it.

      Voted up.


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