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How are online graduate degrees viewed?

4 replies, 2 voices Last updated by Suzanne Saunders 8 years, 5 months ago
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    Suzanne Saunders

    I have a student who is graduating with a B.A. in English and wants to pursue an M.A. in English through an online graduate program. The school is accredited and has a physical campus, but my student would be enrolled in the online graduate program only. She is choosing an online option because her husband is in the military, and they will be moving in a year. However, she has concerns that an online degree will not be respected.

    My experience with online/distance learning is limited, so I could not give her an answer. I would appreciate any comments on how online graduate degrees, through an accredited university, are viewed by hiring committees for college instructors .


    Rachel Neff

    I completely understand your student’s desire to have a portable degree, since I too am attached to someone in the military and am currently pursing an online master’s (I already hold a tradition master’s and doctorate).

    Online degrees are losing their stigma. However, one had to consider the reputation of the school providing the degree. If it’s Podunk University, well, you still have Podunk University’s reputation.

    The most important thing for her to consider is if the university has any distinction in the course catalog between traditional brick-and-mortar degrees and online degrees. If the course numbers are the same and a lay person couldn’t tell the difference between the online English class and the in-the-classroom course, then go for it. The diploma doesn’t say “X University online,” so don’t make any fuss about having taken courses online versus in the classroom.

    She needs to make sure the online degree is accredited from a respected authority. Let’s be honest, University of Phoenix is something you need to steer her away from, because its degrees are not as respected.

    If she doesn’t plan on entering academia, most people don’t care if it’s online or in person, they just care you checked the box and got the degree for the position. If she does plan on entering academia, then minimize the fact it was online. “I attended X university 20XX – 20YY and received a master’s in English.” Only mention online if teaching online is a component for the job description. Otherwise, mum’s the word.

    Now, I’m in an online program, so I can be blunt about the following: the quality of the online education depends greatly on the student. A lot of programs treat online classes like cash cows, and the support and best education practices are just not there. My brick-and-mortal master’s was far more challenging and difficult; I’m not sure if this is because I finished a doctorate and am working on a second master’s, or if the program lacks rigor.

    Plus, a lot of universities do not have the same library resources available for their online students. It’s hard to write a thesis using only JSTOR; your student will need to see what library resources (books, physical books) are made available so she has a shot at writing a solid thesis, if the program requires one.

    The lack of library resources is something to consider when working on final semester/quarter projects as well. If she ever wants to consider a doctoral program, she will have to prepare, long distance, to produce strong term papers she could submit as writing samples. If she can’t, well, then it’s not helping her long-term.

    As a fellow person tied to the military, the online classes provide an explanation in your resume for a gap in employment. It’s easier to say, “I was a full-time student” than “I’m a military partner.” The online classes, if done well (and this absolutely is dependent upon institution), can provide a sense of community, which is something that moving around a lot can take from you.

    Another thing about online classes (again, dependent upon institution) is who is teaching, what is available, and when those classes are available. Again, the cash cow problem – some universities hire a bunch of adjunct/temp faculty to teach graduate courses, but those faculty are not eligible to direct thesis projects. So, your student can take five classes with Professor X, only to learn only Professor A and Z are the only faculty eligible to direct thesis projects, and Professor A requires you to be in two classes before even considering you as a student.

    Some classes are on the books and have never been taught. Sometimes there are so many students who want/need classes that there aren’t enough seats and you take extra semesters to graduate. She needs to look into how often classes are offered and how long it really takes students to graduate. She doesn’t want a two-year program dragging on for four years.

    Also, online classes can be expensive and poorly designed. I’ve take FREE Coursera courses with more rigor than some of my online classes. If this is the case, then your student needs to push herself to do the best she can under the circumstances. Besides, graduate education is often more about what you learn and how you learn than the classes themselves.

    If she and her partner have the financial resources and this is something she wants to do (from an accredited university), then go for it. If the transcript doesn’t distinguish between online/in-person classes, then minimize that she took it online and check the block. If the accreditation committee says it’s an accredited master’s degree, then it’s an accredited master’s degree. Only emphasize online if they ask her to teach online classes.

    There are a lot of military partners who pursue online degrees because of the constant military moves. She might meet a fellow online classmate during a coffee social or FRG meeting!


    Suzanne Saunders

    Hi Rachel,

    Thank you so much for your comments! They are very helpful.

    I have shared your experience and comments with my student, and she has two more questions. I hope you do not mind me passing them along to you, but this is what she would like to know:

    What is your opinion of SNHU as an on line graduate program?

    In which program are you enrolled?

    If you do not want to answer, I understand, but your comments/opinions have been very helpful and are welcome.

    Thanks, again!



    Rachel Neff

    I have no opinion of SNHU. I haven’t heard any horror stories from fellow military partners, but that doesn’t mean the Great Google doesn’t have a few tales.

    I’d tell your student to ask her future program to give her the names and emails of some current students. Just as if she were going to attend the program in person, I’d have her ask these students the following questions:

    1. Are you happy with the program? Would you attend this master’s program again if you had to redo things? Why or why not?

    2. Is it easy to get classes? If you don’t register on the very first day classes, are you out of luck?

    3. Do you feel you are leaning new things or do you feel like you are being given reading lists with a final paper? Does it feel like the University of Google? Or do the professors provide their expertise?

    4. Is it realistic to graduate on time or do most students take longer to finish?

    5. Is this program worth your time and money?

    Things for her to ask the program:
    1. Are your faculty full-time or adjunct? What is the percentage of both?

    2. How long has your current pool of faculty been teaching for the online program?

    3. How are faculty made aware of best online practices and what safeguards do you have in place to ensure online classes are as rigorous and engaging as brick-and-mortar classes?

    I am enrolled in the online MFA from The University of Texas at El Paso. I get an employee discount (60 percent off). I would be happy to share my personal opinions about the program over the phone rather than via board.


    Suzanne Saunders

    Thank you, again, for your helpful comments! I will pass them along to the student.

    At this point, she will be pursuing her MA through SNHU, but still wants to check out her options.

    The reason why I am helping her investigate how online MA programs are perceived is because the faculty at our campus want her to pursue her MA at our school, but that is not an option for her since her husband will be relocating in a year (it takes 2 years to complete an MA in our program), so I needed to pursue comments/opinions outside of our department.

    Your comments have helped give her a better sense of how to navigate choosing a program and how to manage it once she has received her online degree, which has put her more at ease with her decisions.

    Again, thank you!


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