Online MBA programs often find themselves as the subject of scrutiny. Even the proprietors of online degrees, such as Jack Welch, feel the need to defend online degrees as “a real education,” according to an article published in The Wall Street Journal (WSJ). It does not help matters that the content of MBA programs in general have been disputed by students, companies, and professors as well, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported. Adding in the online component only further complicates matters. Online universities are no strangers to criticism and some, like Kaplan University, are even changing their approach in an effort to reduce skepticism and improve how online degrees are viewed, the WSJ reported. Despite the unfavorable rumors that surround online education and the defenses waged by online universities, employers do not actually view online MBAs in as negative of a light as one might think.
It is true that some employers do have a higher opinion of the traditional approach to MBA education when compared to online MBAs. “What I like about traditional MBA programs is that it allows students to interact and learn from their peers, attend lectures and collaborate with peers on group assignments. There is a value to that,” said Wanda Ascherl, the Director of Citywide Beacon Community Center Programs for New York City’s Department of Community and Youth Development. “It’s not just about completing the course. It’s also about how a person functions in a work environment with colleagues. Although the online MBA allows for peer interaction via chat, email and telephone calls, it’s really not the same.”
That may sound like a negative critique of online education, but it is actually a common critique of MBA programs in general. Traditionally, MBA coursework focused on the “hard skills” that get work done efficiently and quickly, such as finance, assertiveness, and speed. These programs left much to be desired, as companies would look for individuals capable of creativity and teamwork, only to find that most MBA graduates had not been taught these so-called “soft skills.” Only recently has there been a shift in the direction of soft skills, with universities such as Columbia and the University of California adapting their approaches to teach the softer skills desired by companies and organizations.
“MBA programs in general need to teach more soft skills,” agreed Wanda Ascherl.
With even traditional MBA programs falling short of providing the skills that employers hope to see in candidates, online programs are not alone in facing scrutiny and doubted efficacy. In a piece that he wrote for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Todd Gilman, an adjunct instructor of online courses, stated, “I’ll be the first to admit that online delivery of undergraduate or graduate course work is not always a wonderful teaching and learning experience for everyone. But then, neither is face-to-face delivery.”
Even though some employers do harbor some negative feelings about online MBAs, it is important to note that graduates are not required to put “online degree” on their resumes. And unless a candidate includes that information, most employers are not going to ask, Wanda Ascherl included. “I think it’s possible that I have interviewed someone with a background in online education. If it’s not listed, I am not going to ask,” said Wanda Ascherl.
In fact, most universities that offer online MBA programs offer concurrent programs on their physical campus. Penn State is one of them, with a website that even states: “Students who successfully complete the iMBA program receive a diploma stating that they have earned a master of business administration degree, not an iMBA or an online MBA.”
Universities do not specify the medium used for coursework on diplomas because they hold both on-campus and off-campus programs to the same standards. According to Dr. Darcy Tannehill, the Vice President of Online and Off-Campus Affairs at Robert Morris University (RMU), online MBA programs do not have different expectations from their campus-based counterparts. “We hold the same requirements for the applicants since the programs are the same,” said Dr. Tannehill.
If it does happen to come up during an interview, the question then arises: how can online MBA graduates set themselves above the pool of potential employees? “My one piece of advice for online MBA degree holders is to effectively demonstrate how their coursework has been applied to their real life experiences, both personally and professionally,” said Wanda Ascherl. “Their work experience and ability to work with others, as well as their ability to effectively change and lead an organization, will speak volumes.”
From an employer perspective, a candidate’s worth is not measured in terms of how the candidate received his or her education, but rather how he or she uses that education. That’s because, as Todd Gilman wrote for the Chronicle of Higher Education, “any classroom, whether it’s the face-to-face, online-only, or hybrid variety, is only as good as the people in it.”