US: No job if you only have an online degree

American universities are rejecting job applications from academics with online degrees - even if the institutions offer those degrees themselves. Good enough for luring in student tuition, it seems, but not good enough for hiring as faculty.

For several years, the number of vacancy descriptions that state "no online degrees" has been increasing. The first "no online degree" declarations were posted for international academic positions and this was to be expected because many other countries had serious problems with diploma mills - those fake institutions that offer degrees for money.

It was possible to identify the diploma mills because, in spite of brochures with campus scenes, they operated out of a storefronts or mailboxes. You filled out a few forms and paid your money for a bachelor's degree; pay more money and you got a masters or a PhD.

Today, with previously legitimate universities offering online courses and degrees, it is becoming difficult to separate the diploma mills from the bona fide programmes. That is why the value of the online degree is being questioned by more and more employers.

Some online degree courses consist of little more than asking the student to read a book and take a test. But we need architects who can build solid buildings and surgical nurses who can do nursing, which is why some employers are placing restrictions on the amount of online work that can be applied toward nursing degrees.

The inability of some online graduates to perform has led to the "no online degrees" job advertisements. The watering down of the value of American degrees has become obvious in recent approvals of online masters degrees for what had previously been undergraduate teaching coursework in Kansas.

Even more appalling was an advertisement I received offering a masters degree based on just one book! I can see a degree for the study of Shakespeare from many perspectives or an analysis of World War II from many authors. But this was one trivial book split into 10 three-credit courses for a whole masters degree, with credit offered through an obscure little college.

In 2005, a forum in the Chronicle of Higher Education asked professors about the value of online degrees. Many of the responses from academics were caustic:

* "I know of no online degrees that are not considered complete jokes."
* "I would never consider hiring anyone with an online degree."
* "Online degrees are a joke. I wish they would get rid of this concept altogether."
* "Degrees mean something and providing el cheapo, fifth-rate pseudo-academic 'alternatives' largely to make money for the school and help the recipient make more money himself is not a legitimate academic enterprise."

So if most university professors are opposed to online degrees, what has happened in the last four years as online degrees have spread?

Most public universities are now enrolment driven. Anything that bolsters student credit hour production grows the university. Some higher administrators are mimicking Wall Street in cheapening their institutions - the education equivalent to toxic bank loans.

The first online courses were pitched to site-bound students to offer anytime-anywhere education; yet the majority of students taking these courses were in the university dormitories!

Higher tuition for online courses that are more expensive to offer solved some of that problem. But in offering online learning for a few genuinely site-bound students, universities are also promoting indolence in many others who could and should be face-to-face with the best academic minds on campus.

If real degrees are to continue to mean anything, this charade has to stop.

*John Richard Schrock trains biology teachers and lives in Kansas.

I noticed on the good professor's institution, Emporia State University, that it offers several degree programmes entirely online. Go figure.

David Mathieu
Director, center for undergraduate studies,
Walden University
(Walden is an online, for-profit, graduate university with its headquarters
in Minnesota)


This article, while making a fair point about the hypocrisy of universities offering online degrees and then not accepting them for staff appointments, mixes up different issues - the bogus qualifications offered by 'degree mills' (which may be online but need not be) with a reasable debate about the use of online pedagogy and the continuing value of the face-to-face experience.

In countries such as mine, distance higher education has been an essential part of improving access to universities for years. The increasingly sophisticated use of online teaching and learning for students who do not have the time or capacity (for work or family reasons) to study on campus makes creative use of the possibility of full online engagement between staff and students.

At its best, it does not try to mimic the on-campus experience but to create a valid learning experience in its own right, sometimes blended with face-to-face learning where that remains necessary. Tarring quality providers in the last group by associating them with the scams of the first group is illogical and harmful to a proper debate.

Stuart Hamilton, CEO Open Universities Australia

I think it's pretty despicable that you paint all distance learning with the same brush -- Harvard, MIT, GWU and Emporia (the school you teach at) all have degrees that you can earn entirely online. Is a degree from your own university worthless? That may be something to decide before your next performance evaluation. And on top of that, most universities have online classes (including the Ivy League).

What about accreditation? Regionally-accredited institutions are held to the highest standards. I'm an undergraduate and I can easily check a school's accreditation -- gasp! It's so easy an undergrad can do it.

I recommend citing your sources next time if you want to be taken seriously. You did not list a single job posting that mentions "no on-line degrees" -- I doubt one exists.

Griffin Boyce
Washington State, US


This was written by someone without a lick of sense. I would love to see where these facts can be found and reviewed.



I agree with Griffin Boyce. You need to cite sources to support assertions for your articles to be credible.


While I agree this is definitely a caveat emptor issue; students in the US are savvy consumers who are easily able to identify the accreditation boundary for institutions of interest to them. We all, as students and employers, rely on accreditation standards (because it is a peer review process) to scrutinise all aspects of an educational institution including its online programmes.

If the online programmes are not meeting the same goals in an outcomes assessment with the same criteria as their on campus programmes, then the institution rightly threatens their accreditation. And, because accreditation is peer review, it''s the same academics and administrators who might be the complainants in this article who are responsible for the oversight of such programmes.

Brian Lee

What I find most interesting is that none of the information in the above article is substantiated by any studies or evidence. Even the world''s worst online student should know that published claims such as these must be supported with evidence.

I find this article to be nothing more than a subjective joke that defames the reputation of this website!

Michael M

Funny many of the professors at our university have PhDs from online. Apparently it did not prevent them from getting hired.

Mary Albrecht,
University of Nevada,
Las Vegas

This article is full of pompous, dismissive snobbery and ignorance. He lumps all distance degrees into one basket. He doesn't seem to understand that some distance degrees have DETC or regional accreditation recognised by the US Department of Education. Standards set by the DETC are just as demanding as the ones set by regional accrediting organisations. People can visit DETC's website for more information.

Students typically can't get online degrees in something like chemistry or biology online without supplemental visits to a campus, because it requires going to lab on campus. But there is no reason why a person could not become just as competent as brick and mortar students in most other academic areas that don't have labs, like English, economics, business, etc. His comments about nursing and architecture are also profoundly ignorant, because the idea is that such students, whether studying online or on campus, are going to be getting internships while in school to learn how to apply what they're studying in the professional setting.

Throughout his article, he makes it sound like there are no set standards for online degrees. This is false. The question is whether the online degree has recognised accreditation, which means DETC accreditation or regional accreditation. If it has such valid accreditation, then there are set standards that the programmes have to meet, and they are by no means "diploma mills"

There are fraudulent or uncertain online degrees from diploma mills. And these are degrees that don't have DETC or regional accreditation. I'm so sorry if the author, while teaching other instructors, is too lazy to read up on and get an understanding of accreditation standards.

Sean L.