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The Academy and Hiring Parity for Graduates of Online Programs

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Sue Neal
December 3, 2018

The academic world encourages employers and students to consider the online degree in parity with traditional “bricks and mortar” programs. Until the academy gives this same acceptance to considering graduates of online programs for faculty level positions, true parity cannot be achieved.

When I have shared my objective of teaching post doctorate, most every academic I have spoken with gives the same advice: if you earn your degrees online you may well find the opportunity to teach as an adjunct, but you will never be accepted as faculty. They say senior faculty would not consider hiring professors who were graduates of online programs… even to teach in online programs. To me, this doesn’t make sense of a few reasons.

Online degrees have been growing in popularity and most programs advertise that you receive an equivalent level of learning in the online environment as you do at a traditional in person course. Employers are told the same thing. If the academy is telling students and employers that online degrees are just as rigorous and have the same high quality standards that traditional programs do this attitude should not exist and faculty should be drawn from a pool of both online and traditional graduates.

I also believe online students are well positioned to be excellent professors for online programs. Learning online is unique and requires a different set of skills than the traditional classroom. Graduates who have lived through this experience first-hand should be well positioned to be high quality professors in the online classroom.

In the turmoil of higher education, with ever-growing ranks of adjunct instructors replacing tenured faculty, it should come as no surprise that these positions are increasingly competitive. Competition can be good, but the playing field should be fair. Even in the adjunct market, I have heard some people comment that you are much better off if you have graduated from a traditional program. Graduating from an online program should not be seen as subpar if we believe our own marketing materials.

Conclusion: Online education seems to be here to stay. Maintaining quality in these programs and encouraging innovation will require top quality instructors and professors. Hiring faculty should consider the unique perspective and experience that graduates of online programs bring. At the very least, the online graduate should be considered alongside traditional graduates with no discrimination. If the academy is unwilling to treat online graduates with parity to traditional graduates, then they have no place expecting other employers and potential students to do the same.

Caveat: This essay is based on my own discussions with university faculty. I know and is not representative of the entirety of higher ed… there may be some senior faculty out there that embrace online graduates as potential faculty. They are to be commended!


Author: Sue M. Neal is a DPA student at West Chester University. She has been the Executive Director of a nonprofit nature preserve in Michigan for over 18 years. Sue completed her MPA at Arkansas State University. She shares her home with several rescued tortoises and quite a few cats. She can be reached at: [email protected]

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One Response to The Academy and Hiring Parity for Graduates of Online Programs

  1. Matthew C Phinney Reply

    December 5, 2018 at 12:15 am

    Excellent observations of the online learning sphere. As technology continues to improve and solve the issue of education delivery, this will likely become the most affordable option to receive an education as it allows learners to work full-time while completing a course of study in the same amount of time. I am active duty military and completed my B.S. and MPA online completely AND I intend to teach to help me earn a little extra cash on the side while applying my military instructor experience and building a resume for when I leave the military.
    I don’t necessarily see online replacing the brick and mortar institutions completely, but when high schoolers start waking up to the fact that he student loan crisis is part of the crippling syndrome dragging our country into the mud, there will be a huge shift toward this style of learning as a more efficient and cost-effective option. The only word of caution I give to students is to avoid the for-profit model (even as an ardent capitalist libertarian) because it gives the school an incentive to push students through in order to maximize profits, rather than focus on delivering quality education–and employers know it. I have seen stories and talked to people who went to these schools that were rejected by employers because they had a grad degree from “Trident University” or “Ashford” on their diploma, and were then shown interest when they removed the for-profit degree from the resume.
    This is a great article, and I think the safe bet is that online learning will likely stand in the distant future where the physical campuses begin to shutter.

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