If you have internet access, search the phrase "no online degrees." For the last several years the number of job vacancy descriptions that state "no online degrees" is increasing.
The first "no online degrees" vacancies were posted for international academic positions. This is to be expected since many other countries have serious problems with "diploma mills"—fake institutions that offer fake degrees for money. Previously, it was possible to identify fake diploma mills because, in spite of brochures with campus scenes, they operated out of a storefront or mailbox. You filled out a few forms and paid your money for a bachelors degree. More money got you a masters or a Ph.D.
Today, with previously legitimate universities offering online courses and degrees, it is becoming difficult to separate the diploma mills from the bonafide programs. That is why the value of the online degree is being questioned by more employers.
Some programs boil it down to reading a book and taking a test. But we need architects who can build solid buildings and surgical nurses that can "do" nursing. From ads for private tutors to armed forces restrictions on the amount of online work that can be applied toward nursing degrees, the inability of some online graduates to perform is now resulting in "no online degree" job advertisements.
The "watering down"of the value of American degrees has become obvious in the recent approvals of online masters degrees for what has previously been undergraduate student teaching coursework in Kansas. Even more appalling was an advertisement I received this last month offering a masters degree based on just one book! I can see a degree for study of Shakespeare from many perspectives or an analysis of World War II from many authors. But this was one trivial book split into ten 3-credit courses for a whole masters degree, with credit offered through an obscure little college.
If real degrees in American institutions are to continue to mean anything, this charade has to stop.
In 2005, a forum in the Chronicle of Higher Education asked professors about the value of online degrees. Much of the response from academics was 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 "enrollment driven." Anything that bolsters student credit hour production "grows the university." Some higher administrators are mimicking Wall Street in cheapening higher education—the education equivalent to toxic bank loans. When the first online courses were pitched to site-bound students to offer "anytime-anywhere" education, 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, we are also promoting indolence in many other students who could and should be face-to-face with the best academic minds on campus.
Young students would be well advised to consider if the online program they enroll in today will still be the union card for the job they want tomorrow.
John Richard Schrock trains biology teachers and lives in Emporia.