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I took a new position (a lateral move) in January and finally feel like I've acclimated to the job, the tasks, the demands, the clients, etc. My new boss is supportive of my desires to move upward. This is my first gig at such a large company. (4 yrs with this employer and they have 40,000+ ee's) Usually my rise has been much, much faster. A lot of my previous management roles have been in the <500 ee range.

Meanwhile, I'm 35 and don't have my bachelor's degree yet. Long story short, don't let your kid run amok at college 300 miles from parental supervision at the age of 16.

I've dabbled over the last twenty years and have about 65 or 70 credits needed to graduate. It's just a matter of settling in at one institution and moving forward.

My employer has a reasonably generous tuition reimbursement program and this calendar year & next, I can expect to complete about 9-12 credits on the company's dime. After that, I can increase to about 15-18 credits on the company.

Using only the company's money (even through reimbursement), I calculate it would take nearly 4 years to complete the remaining credits for my bachelor's degree.

I've seen how slowly the wheels turn at my company. A simple "you get a promotion" is a matter of building a business case and must pass through at least six different people's hands before it can be approved - a process often taking 6 mos or longer.

I believe that my enrollment in a degree program would be a positive thing during performance review (and any business case) times. They place high importance on furthering oneself and pursuing additional education, whether company product knowledge, self-improvement or traditional schooling.

Given the nature of my job, it is not terribly practical to expect that I would be able to attend a brick-and-mortar institution for classes.

I've decided to pursue a degree entirely online. I've found, over the years, that I do best with this education format. I can squeeze in school work throughout my day (given the nature of the job) and can work at home, on the weekends, in the middle of the night if my schedule gets that wacky.

It has been suggested to me that:

[I] don't need to worry about where the degree comes from - so long as it's accredited - or what the degree is in. [I] have a job at a company that thinks well of [me] and once [I] have the degree, [I] will be more seriously considered for management and above positions.

Thoughts?

P.S. - I'm considering pursuing my Bachelor of Arts in Human Resource Management through Western International University which is a 'sub-school' of the University of Phoenix. They offer 9 week accelerated courses but I would still only take classes while the employer is paying - basically 2 mos per calendar year.

nagesh's picture

Two thoughts.

The timing seems right. You have been in your current job for eight months and should have developed a good grasp over your current responsibilities. Hence a good time to further your studies. You can use tuition reimbursement for this year as well.

Not all online programs are perceived equally. Can you find an institution that supplements online courses with classroom-based classes? Something closer to your geography? This is more important when choosing a master's program.

Good luck with your studies.

IndianaRoger's picture

Certainly something is better than nothing but.... If I were your manager I would prefer you to attend a local community college and take longer than a strictly on-line University. At least in the mid-west there is some suspicion of the quality of the education. Our company ended up paying for a University of Phoenix degree and felt that our money was partially wasted (as I recall it was an HR degree as well). There are a couple of local Universities that offer adult education at a faster pace and I know that at least some of the classes are virtual. Perhaps you should ask your manager what he/she would recommend. They might be able to ask their boss as well for some feedback.

I admire your fortitude for going back to school. Hang in there! Remember this is a long term investment.

WillDuke's picture

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Sounds like a long time to complete the program, but it's even longer if you don't start. As to the pace, you didn't mention what your personal commitments were. Do you have family, church, civic, etc commitments already? Balance is key.

As to online vs brick and mortar, my personal belief is that the online education isn't as good. That being said, I'm not a professional recruiter. I'd hope that Wendii or M&M respond with their experience. They're a lot more tuned in to what works than I am.

juliahhavener's picture

I've taken many of my classes online through my local college. It's an ideal learning environment for me because of my other constraints on my time. I have a hard time sitting still in a classroom where I suffer the strain of knowing that people are asking stupid questions and wasting my time. I swear, if I'd had to take my last English comp class in a classroom, I might have strangled some of my classmates. I do prefer a "traditional" college, however. I've known a number of people who have gone to Phoenix and I just haven't felt they've gotten the same value.

wendii's picture

I'll respond since I was asked :-)

I think as a recruiter my general perception would be a that an online degree wouldn't be as good. That said, in the UK we have the Open University which is well regarded and respected, and recruiters generally understand that once you have passed the mid-twenties, it's harder to go fulltime to university and that online/correspondence courses are a reasonable option.

I'd prefer to see you finished in any way that made that possible, than incomplete because you couldn't go to a b&m uni (as an incomplete degree makes me wonder what else you leave incomplete).

Wendii

rthibode's picture

ash, could you take online courses from a "real" (bricks and mortar) institution?

In my experience, Phoenix and the like are not very well-respected. Like Julia, I've heard from a few people who did not have a good experience taking their classes. The prestige of your degree may not be an issue for your current employer, but other employers might not see it that way. Why risk closing a door to the future when you could be opening one?

ashdenver's picture

I did take a few courses at the local community college some years ago when I was working part-time and was self-employed. Now that I'm working full-time for someone else, short of giving up my evenings and weekends (which I'm loathe to do given all my other personal commitments), online does seem to be my best option.

I have taken some online courses through the University of Colorado at Denver (UCD) two years ago. It worked wonderfully in that I was able to get A's on everything except Accounting (hate Acctg!) where I got a B+. The problem with UCD is that they don't offer ALL of the classes I need for my degree over the internet.

Having the experience with online education already (through the brick & mortar places), I feel comfortable with the format and learning style required for success. I recognize that self-direction is important in an online environment and participation is crucial.

I used to turn my nose up at places like U of Phoenix. I would say "Gee, those people just BOUGHT their degrees, they didn't actually learn anything." I made a comment in that regard one night at a dinner party and our neighbor who was a successful partner in her law firm said that she got her undergrad degree from them.

I've also had a few friends use U of Phx and Western Intl for degrees. The amount of work and the volume of papers they've been required to submit has really changed my mind about the concept. My friend R got her Masters in Marketing from U of Phx and my friend N got her Associates thru Western.

I've also confirmed that WIU is fully accredited (thru the US Dept of Education) and has been for 23 yrs. I can't imagine that an institution would be accredited or retain the accreditation for so long if they were lacking in what they offered or were willing/able to teach.

I think that the online route allows more people to slack if that's in their make-up. I think that online classes (online only or online as part of brick/mortar extension) require a lot more discipline and dedication. After all, if you don't have to be at a building by 6pm Mon, Weds & Fri to get your assignment or catch the lecture, who's to say you'll go to the website - there's no real deadline.

All that said, I was hoping that things had changed in the past five or ten years, that online programs have become more generally accepted. From the sounds of it, I'm gathering that online is still considered sub-standard when compared to brick/mortar.

WillDuke's picture

I think you've hit the nail on the head. It's not so much a question of whether or not the program is good, it's the perception that counts.

You could certainly take the high road and begin to change the perception. I can foresee that somewhere in the future perception might change and online universities will be more respected. But in the meantime do you want to be the one to carry that flag?

regas14's picture

Go for the on-line degree program. I think that things have evolved (not changed, but evolved) in recent years, but that's not the most important factor. A bachelor's degree is a "check-the-box" item for an experienced person. The institution or format will not be a key factor in getting you a promotion. You simply need to be able to check that box on your resume so to speak. Go the route that will remove obstacles and allow you to remain focused, complete the degree and learn as much as possible.

Unless you're considering Harvard vs. University of Phoenix, the difference will likely be indiscernable at this stage in your career. I feel exactly the opposite when it comes to more traditional students (18-20 year-olds) based on the "other" things a young person learns while away at college.

tomw's picture

As someone about to graduate from Kaplan's online program, I'm a little biased here.

I was a little surprised at how much I could learn from the program. There was extensive reading and discussion involved and I got a LOT out of it.

At the same time, I think the grading seemed a bit arbitrary at times and you could easily get good grades while kind of only doing enough work to meet the requirements.

As others have said, any degree is better than no degree. More important than that is what results you have gotten. If you can show demonstrable results, I don't think it's as important where your degree is from, especially later in your career. The degree becomes more of a check box (does he have a degree? yes. OK, let's move on).

I also expect that in the coming years, possibly even within the time it takes you to finish, online degrees will become even more common than they are now. They are not the cheap diploma mills that they used to be.

I think the biggest drawback to online programs is the lack of socialization. You don't see/talk/hang out with your classmates like you would in a traditional school. At the same time, that same issue cuts down on the negative social aspects of a university, like the "old boys clubs" and such.

spiffdeb's picture

Kudos to you for putting in the time and effort to get your degree!

FYI - Many "brick and mortar" institutions offer online degrees - Syracuse University, NYU and many other traditional universities also offer online degrees.

I do think it is important to find a school that meets your academic standards and has good name recognition. There is a certain stigma (fair or not) with U of Phoenix and others that are online only.

I am pursuing my M.S. degree online. I took a lot of time to research and went with a school that is strong in my field of study and is primarily 'brick and mortar'.

For some of us who have extreme jobs or travel extensively this is the only way obtaining a degree is going to happen. The downside of this approach is that it does not replicate the classroom experience and generally I don't feel it is as intensive. The upside is if you have a lot of industry experience in the field you are pursuing you can dedicate the amount of time necessary (i.e. less) to topics you are already very familiar with.

Other considerations - I have noticed that people who are not native english speakers sometimes struggle more with online format. The other area where I see people struggle is if the course uses chat format for discussion; if you are not a good typist you may find it hard to "get a word in edgewise". Lastly, if you are not organized and a self-starter you can really get behind with lecture note reviews and end up trying to make up a lot of ground late in the game.

In summary, getting my degree online has been a good choice for me and may be for others whose work schedules or travel make it difficult to be in a particular place at a particular time each week. Take the time to do your homework and look for brick and mortar schools who also offer online degrees.

skwanch's picture

Ash -

My opinion / advice solely concerns Univ of Phoenix - I have a family member who used to teach for them and sadly he confirms the perception that it's a place where degrees are bought, rather than educations earned. He finally left in frustration over the fact that the grades he gave were 'corrected' on more than one occasion, in order to 'keep the student happy' (ie. enrolled / paying tuition).

That's not to say there aren't bright, capable people who have that degree on their resume, but there's enough of a perception out there to give one pause - given that the primary value of a degree in your situation* is for the perception it creates, I'd try to find a different option.

FWIW, I know Golden Gate Univ in SF has an EXCELLENT online program, and they also have an excellent academic reputation. Also, almost any big college now has at least some of its offerings online - my mom taught nursing for Univ Texas San Antonio until very recently and the past couple of years her entire courseload was online. So options are certainly out there.

*(and mine, for that matter . . . I chuckled ruefully at your description of 'running amok' 300mi from home - I have the same history, except my parents were 3000mi overseas . . . my standard joke is that I majored in fraternity)

ccleveland's picture

Ash,

Did I read right… you hate accounting, yet you’re a payroll manager? I must have a misconception of what payroll does.

CC

skwanch's picture

[quote]Did I read right… you hate accounting, yet you’re a payroll manager? I must have a misconception of what payroll does. [/quote]

In some organisations the payroll function is fairly removed from 'pure' accounting (ie. 'debits and credits'), but still requires very specialized knowledge and skills w/ regard to overtime rules/calculations, exempt vs. non-exempt status, etc. Add in things like flexible spending accounts, IRA / pension calculations, payroll tax returns, etc and you can easily have a job where you never generate a journal entry or reconcile an account.

Journal entries or no, payroll professionals are a critical resource and often go unappreciated, and unnoticed until they a mistake is made (at which point all hell usually breaks loose).

ccleveland's picture

I certainly appreciate the value of the payroll staff! ;) But I know what you meant.

And thanks for explaining some of the differences.

CC

Mark's picture

Ash-

While I generally agree that bricks and mortar schools are thought of more favorably, I have found that at the stage you are in your career, an online program is just fine.

And, I've found that brick and mortar schools have schedules that allow virtually anyone to avail themselves of their offerings.

My recommendation is speed.

Mark

stephenbooth_uk's picture

BLUF: If you're going to get an online qualification make sure the awarding body is well known and well respected where you're going to be using it.

[quote="wendii"]in the UK we have the Open University which is well regarded and respected[/quote]

In that specific case I suspect that the regard for OU comes very much from the fact that it's been around longer than many of the newer bricks-and-mortar universities, its association with the BBC (many of us grew up, and had our first experience of, watching OU programmes in the early hours of Saturday morning whilst waiting for the 'real' programmes to start, I'm harking back to the 1970s and 1980s (before 200,000 channels, 24 hours a day) here) and that it's not purely online/correspondance. If someone comes to me with an OU degree then I know that they've been to the summer schools and have, for a week or two a year at least, sat in a real classroom with a real tutor and studied real material.

If, as has been hinted at elsewhere, they studied with the OU at a time of their life when they could have realistically have been expected to go to a bricks-and-mortar university then I'd probably try to find out why, but it wouldn't be a major red flag, if they started the course in their 30s, 40s or later then I wouldn't have any concerns at all.

On the other hand if someone were to come to me with an online degree from a university that isn't the OU or an established bricks-and-mortar university then my presumption is going to be that they bought it and didn't study any real university level material. It's up to them to prove otherwise. The worth of a degree depends on the perception of the body that awards it, I've seen too many adverts for online degrees from universities I've never heard of that promised no or minimal study to trust an online degree unless I'm familiar with the awarding body.

I suppose the up shot of this meandering monologue is that if you're going to do an online degree (or MBA) you should do some research upfront to make sure that the awarding body is well known and well percieved in the area you intend to use it in.

Stephen

thaGUma's picture

Reputable is key. Wendii (now this is getting boring :P ) is right again.
I have no experience of online degrees and would give more points to a low grade bricks and mortar institution than to any dot.com.

The OU has been around longer than the Web and has credibility beyond it's online presence.

I would avoid online unless for IT qualifications where there is more chance of future employers recognising the level of achievement.

Chris

bflynn's picture

A year or two ago, there was a survey done of corporate recruiters. 40% of them said they viewed an online degree as inferior. Couple that with the artificial reality of hiring and you can reasonably say that if you have an online degree, 40% of corporate recruiters have a reason to eliminate you from consideration.

Bottom line - if you get/have an online degree, statistics say that 40% of the jobs in the market are closed to you, at least for the initial hiring out of school.

Its harsh.

Brian

Note - As I was thinking about this response today, I realized it was not accurate as originally posted for "hiring managers". The original statistic came from an article about companies recruiting at schools (I think from Business Week) about two years ago. The phrase used in the article was corporate recruiter, so I have made that change here.

rthibode's picture

Hello MT members. I thought some of you might be interested in this news release:

US employers slow to accept online degrees: While US employers and hiring managers say online degrees are more acceptable now than in recent years, job candidates with traditional university and college credentials are favoured, according to Vault Inc.'s 2008 Online Degrees Survey. While 83% of managers surveyed said online degrees were more acceptable today than 5 years ago, only 19% have hired an applicant possessing only an online degree. Over half said online degrees were as acceptable and bachelor's and graduate degrees, but not as credible. 63% said they favoured candidates with traditional degrees, up from 55% in a previous survey (http://www.academicagroup.com/node/2651).

Vault News Release http://www.vault.com/pdf-ads/press-release/08OnlineDegrees_release_final...

2008 Online Degrees Survey Results http://www.vault.com/online-degrees/

AManagerTool's picture

As has been pointed out, it depends on where the candidate is in their career and what they are going for. For an IT guy to take an online course to get certification as a SS Black Belt is fine. For a line manager to finish his MBA at an online school is probably fine. I guess that the point is that the online degree thing is or should be in addition to your primary degree.

ashdenver's picture

[quote="skwanch"][quote]Did I read right… you hate accounting, yet you’re a payroll manager? I must have a misconception of what payroll does. [/quote]
Journal entries or no, payroll professionals are a critical resource and often go unappreciated, and unnoticed until they a mistake is made (at which point all hell usually breaks loose).[/quote]
I've always said: "I know I'm doing a good job if my phone doesn't ring!"

And yes, Skwanch, your assessment is spot-on. In many (if not most) organizations, payroll is far removed from true-accounting as to be an entirely different animal. In the days of outsourcing, the payroll vendor provides the reconciliation reports and raw data in G/L-ready format to give to The Accounting Geeks. It's a wonderful thing!

In fact, I will generally shy away from payroll management positions with companies that report in to the CFO or Controller (i.e., too far into the Wacky World of Accounting) preferring instead to report in to or be tied in with the Human Resource side of things. There are so many more threads connecting Payroll to HR than there are connecting Payroll to Accounting -- so many laws, regulations, vendors, managers, employees, benefits, etc. The payroll system does ultimately spit out numbers the Accountants use but the system itself holds the vast wealth of HR-specific information like EEOC, OSHA, ADA, FMLA, I-9, Vets-100, IRS and state/local tax compliance, reporting structure, compensation banding, performance appraisals ... the list goes on and on.

Anyway, relating to the original topic of Online vs Brick-and-Mortar, I ultimately chose to attend a Brick school (University of Colorado at Denver) and thus far, I've been able to do three semesters entirely online. It's working out nicely -- though I'm a little concerned about Physics this semester! LOL

tomw's picture

I'd asked our HR director about this point once. His take: If someone has an degree from a first-rate university, he does not care if it's their online or their brick-and-mortar program. To him, it mattered more that a solid university was willing to give this person a degree.

He looked at graduates of online-only schools a little closer, similar to how he treats anyone from a less-respected school. In that case, he looks for a stronger experience level or other indicators that the person could be a high performer.

His reasoning is that a high-potential professional may live near a less-expensive school or traveled a lot and only had time for an online degree. Not everyone lives near (or can afford) Harvard. This candidate would probably have other indicators, like a fast climb through the ranks, constantly increasing responsibility/results, or a fast-growing salary within one company, that they would be a good hire.