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«The Market Value of Online Degrees as a Credible Credential Calvin D. Fogle, DBA Western Governors University Devonda Elliott, Doctoral Candidate ...»

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The Market Value of Online Degrees as a Credible Credential

Calvin D. Fogle, DBA

Western Governors University

Devonda Elliott, Doctoral Candidate

University of the Rockies

ABSTRACT

This exploratory research employed a random sample drawn from employers across multiple

industries to investigate four research questions: Do hiring managers hold favorable attitudes

toward graduates from primarily online universities in comparison with non-online universities?

To what degree are hiring managers well versed concerning online universities? To what extent do these expectations vary across industry sectors including government, and nonprofit settings?

How do hiring managers perceive education at online universities? The purpose of the study was to describe and understand hiring manager’s perceptions of degrees gained from online universities. The specific research questions were aimed at gaining a clearer understanding of employers’ perceptions relative to online universities and online degree attainment, and to use the knowledge gained to inform prospective students, Universities and employers. The results of this study revealed (a) employers perceived a traditional or hybrid modality more credible than a purely online modality across multiple industries; (b) Respondents’ attitudes towards online education are significantly more positive if the respondent has had experience with online education, and (c) confirmed previous studies about the uncertainty of employing candidates with online degrees.

Introduction This study employed a random sample drawn from employers across multiple industries to investigate four research questions: Do hiring managers hold favorable attitudes toward graduates from primarily online universities in comparison with non-online universities? To what degree are hiring managers well versed concerning online universities? To what extent do these expectations vary across industry sectors including government, and nonprofit settings?

How do hiring managers perceive education at online universities? The research questions sought to describe and understand hiring manager’s perceptions of graduates from online universities. The specific research questions were aimed at gaining a clearer understanding of employers’ perceptions relative to online university graduates, and to use the knowledge gained to inform Universities and employers. The results of this study could inform institutional leaders and employers to recognize perceptions that may exist regarding credibility of online universities. The results of this study could provide the opportunity to assist prospective students, as consumers of higher education, to make informed choices about educational modalities.

Background of the Literature To answer these questions, the survey posed a number of questions that asked about hiring practices and whether the source of the degree is a consideration in hiring decisions.

Additionally, a set of questions was also asked about perceptions of online students and online education that should illuminate the rationale for an employer’s bias. The information from these surveys can be used to provide guide job seekers who have an online degree over potential hurdles as well as inform online universities on perceptions of their product and how to better compete against other online universities.

The modalities of educational delivery have evolved from traditional face to face instruction to distance education, and now to global online asynchronous and synchronous with plausible growth rates (Allen & Seaman, 2005). The desire to shift toward serving nontraditional learners, reducing physical infrastructure, lack of sustained funding for public institutions, and increased educational accessibility have made online instruction an risky but attractive proposition (Bonvillian & Singer, 2013). Prior studies have posited that educational outcomes of online instruction are equivalent or more significant to face to face modalities (Angiello, 2010; Angiello & Natvig, 2010; Nance, 2007; Palloff & Pratt, 2001; Robinson & Hullinger, 2008; Russell, 2001). The effectiveness of online education has emerged with divergent views. Garbett (2011) found that quality instruction is not compromised with online instruction, yet significant cost savings can be achieved using online modalities. Using technology as the means of delivery with limitless online exchange mechanisms yields significant meaningful exposure for learners (Bonvillian & Singer, 2013).

Some trepidation toward acceptance of purely online education across all levels of education exists with quality and learning benchmarks exhibited by online instruction (Columbaro & Monaghan, 2005; Rauh, 2011). Recent studies have investigated overall employer opinions (Astani & Ready, 2010; Tabatabaei & Gardiner, 2012; Vukelic, & Pogarcic, 2011).

Astani & Ready (2010) found that a positive response regarding online courses and flexibility of the online modality; however uncertainty existed with hiring candidates with degrees from online universities (Tabatabaei & Gardiner, 2012; Vukelic, & Pogarcic, 2011). Linardopoulos (2012) analyzed existing studies and found that employers continue to view online degree candidates less favorably. Columbaro & Monaghan (2009) posited that a negative stigma still exists in online degree attainment and that further research is needed to provide insight into this area. A common theme which emerged out of multiple studies indicates that a comprehensive study focusing on identifying employer views by specific industries is warranted (Adams & DeFleur, 2006; Astani & Ready, 2010; Linardopoulos, 2012).





The nature of the study sought to explore employer attitudes toward graduates from primarily online universities; moreover, the study will seek to explore the extent of these expectations across industry sectors’ including government, and nonprofit settings was of paramount concern. The notion of scholarship apprehension has not declined the disruptive innovation as universities continue to increase online courses and complete degree programs providing substantial access for higher education across the globe (Hyman, 2012). The contemporary delivery of higher education has caused the emergence to underscore the acceptance, employability, and credibility from the perspective of external stakeholders of online education.

Research questions

To examine the problem under study, the following questions guided this research:

1. How do hiring managers perceive education at online universities?

2. Do hiring managers hold favorable attitudes toward graduates of online universities in comparison with traditional universities?

3. To what degree are hiring managers well versed concerning online universities?

4. To what extent do these expectations vary across industry, government, and nonprofit settings?

Hypothesis This inquiry is focused by the following research hypothesis that “There will be no significant difference between employer perceptions of graduates from online universities towards the concept of employability, credibility and educational modalities”.

Assumptions, Limitations & Delimitations of the Study To mitigate the potential risk in assumptions, participants willingly participated in the study and had no unambiguous schema to affect unduly the outcome of the study. The limitations of this study were (a) the number of respondents willing and available to participate; (b) the respondents’ varying experiential levels with online education, which could have affected accurate data collection; and (c) the nature of the study and that the data collected reflected accuracy solely for the sample. The number of respondents willing and available to participate determined the limits of the study and the ability to extrapolate the results to a general population. Other populations might not be generalized with the results of this study. Three delimitations in this study were (a) the choice of the problem and the environment, (b) population, and (c) sample size and location. The choice of the problem and the environment based on random sampling was a key delimitation for this study. The study relied on the reliability and credibility of respondents’ perceptions and their accurate rumination.

Methods Data analysis methods are driven by the type of data generated by the survey and, in particular, the level of measurement of survey variables. The level of measurement of a variable refers to its numerical properties. Levels of measurement can be arranged in a hierarchy that includes, from bottom to top, nominal variables, ordinal variables, and ratio variables. Variables measured at the nominal level of measurement are not necessarily numbers, but rather, are labels that reflect categories. Examples of variables measured at the nominal level of measurement include Gender and the type of university a degree was obtained from. For nominal variables, statistics are based on counts of the variables or proportions of respondents within a category.

Variables measured at the nominal level of measurement are also used to categorize other variables to construct contrasts. For example, one can compare the difference in attitudes between males and females or between respondents who graduated from a traditional, on-campus university and respondents who graduated from an online university or a mixture of traditional and online universities.

Next up the hierarchy of levels of measurement are ordinal variables. Variables measured at the ordinal level are also not necessarily numbers, but in contrast to nominal variables, can be ordered or ranked. Examples of ordinal variables include letter grades in a class, where A is a better grade than B, which is better than C and so on, and family income, where family income can be one of a set of non-overlapping intervals of income. Within the survey, the primary means for eliciting attitudes is a series of Likert style questions, with responses ranging from Strongly disagree through Neutral to Strongly agree, which are also ordinal measured variables.

At the top of the hierarchy of levels of measurement are variables measured on a ratio scale. Variables measured on a ratio scale are numbers that have two additional properties: the distance between any two successive numbers is a constant, and there is a natural zero, so that expressing one value as a multiple of another value is sensible. Variables that are measures of time, weight, and height are all examples of ratio measures. In contrast, a variable that measures temperature is not a ratio variable because, as suggested by the several different temperature scales, there is no natural zero.

Table 1 lists the variables in the survey that are used for analysis and their level of measure.

Table 1.

Variables and their level of measurement Level of Variable measure Comment Age Ordinal Reported as category Gender Nominal Level of Education Nominal Location, Census area Nominal Type of education (online or on-campus) Nominal Industry Nominal Title Nominal Size of employer Ordinal Household income Ordinal Reported as category Q6A. Online and traditional universities’ Ordinal Likert scale: 1 = Strongly disagree, 2 = degrees are equal in rigor. Disagree, 3 = Neutral, 4 = Agree, 5 = Strongly agree Q6B. In hiring decisions, I would Ordinal Likert scale consider a degree from online and traditional universities the same.

Q6C. I would NOT hire someone with an Ordinal Likert scale online degree for a position.

Q7. Graduates with online degrees have Ordinal Likert scale been mostly unsuccessful in my industry.

Q10A. Online and traditional courses Ordinal Likert scale offer the same flexibility.

Q10B. Online and traditional courses Ordinal Likert scale offer the same course material.

Q10C. Online and traditional courses Ordinal Likert scale offer the same learning experience.

Q11. The type of college or university Ordinal Likert scale (online versus on-campus) from which the applicant obtained his or her degree would be of no importance as a a hiring criterion in our organization Q12. (Hypothetical question) In your Nominal Multiple choice among On-campus, perception which candidate would you Online, and Hybrid of both on-campus hire and online Although it is possible to compare sample means of ordinal variables across groups and rely on a Central Limit Theorem to ensure that t statistics that are based on the normal distribution will still be useful, given the relatively small sample of observations here, which become even smaller when split into subgroups for comparison, nonparametric statistics are more likely to be valid than t tests.

Rather than estimating the population mean by using the sample mean as an estimate, this paper estimates the population median or 50th percentile. The median is defined as the value of the variable such that at least half of the population (or sample, for the sample median) has that value or a smaller value, and less than half of the population has a value strictly larger than the median. For responses to the Likert questions, the sample median and a 95 percent confidence interval for the population median are provided. The 95% confidence interval has the interpretation that there is a 95% probability that the 95% confidence interval for the population median contains the population median.

In addition to interval estimates of the population median, three types of nonparametric hypothesis test are performed below: the Wilcoxon rank sum test, the Kruskal-Wallis test, and the chi square test for independence.



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