From Online Learning to Real Life Earning – The Power of Online Degrees

September 24, 2011 by  
Filed under About Online Degrees

From Online Learning to Real Life Earning – The Power of Online Degrees

Peggy Shields worked in an office for a home health agency in Pennsylvania for 12 years, ordering supplies, mailing letters and helping compile surveys. Though she had been promoted to operations assistant, she wanted to do something more creative that would tap into her interest in website design.

In 2004, she enrolled in an online degree program in web design and multimedia at Westwood College Online, headquartered in Denver, Colo. With the skills she learned in the program, Shields was able to launch her own business developing websites, and she now earns nearly three times her salary in the health care industry.

“If it wouldn’t have been for my degree, I probably would be still working at my other job and playing with web design,” says Shields, 49, who has more than 90 clients in the business and nonprofit sectors.

Despite the economic downturn that has slowed hiring, graduates of online universities are using their degrees to launch new careers or advance in their current positions. Their success in the job market has been bolstered by a more favorable perception among human resource professionals towards online degrees.

A national survey conducted in September found that 79 percent of organizations had hired a job applicant with an online degree in the last 12 months and that 87 percent of human resource professionals viewed online degrees more favorably now than five years ago.

Since many students enrolled in online degree programs are working adults, their experience in the workforce is also an advantage when starting a job search after graduation. More than 75 percent of students are employed while enrolled in career colleges, according to the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities.

“One of the things that recruiters often tell me is that they appreciate the number of years of experience that our students already have in the field,” says Grace Williamson, senior manager for career services for American Public University System, headquartered in Charles Town, W. Va. “They appreciate the fact that they are already holding full-time jobs while pursuing their degrees.”

Scott Arthur, 39, was working as a paramedic when he enrolled for a two-year online degree in homeland security at Everest University Online, headquartered in Tampa, Fla. The first member of his family to earn a college degree, Arthur was promoted to his current position as an area captain for his emergency medical services company in Cincinnati, Ohio, just a few months before he received his associate degree.

“I can’t tell you how much of a difference the degree made in my daily work,” says Arthur, who is now continuing his coursework toward a bachelor’s degree in business management. “It made me a better supervisor and a better paramedic. You don’t know what you’re missing until you have it.”

For students who want to change jobs or start a new career, online colleges have created innovative programs to help graduates find positions in their fields of study.

American Public University System, for example, held its first virtual career fair last August for its online students to meet with recruiters in chat rooms in cyberspace. More than 600 students and alumni participated in the event and met online with representatives from organizations such as Amazon, Accenture and the National Security Administration.

Several civilian companies were particularly interested in recruiting military students deployed overseas, so they logged onto the chat rooms beginning at 5:30 a.m. and stayed online until 7:30 p.m. so they could connect with military personnel around the globe. “There would be no other way to accomplish this if you were deployed in the Middle East or in Afghanistan,” Williamson says.

Westwood College has eight employer relations managers who seek out jobs for the school’s graduates; two of the managers are assigned specifically to find jobs for online students. “They look at the markets where a student is about to graduate so it’s more specific,” says Rick Yaconis, chief admissions officer at Westwood.

Yaconis notes that online students need to understand that they might need to relocate to get the job they are seeking. For students who want to enter a field like gaming and animation, they might have to move to markets where these jobs are concentrated, such as California, Yaconis adds.

The career services offered at for-profit universities have translated into large numbers of students landing jobs in their fields. At Westwood, 70 percent of online graduates find employment in their fields of study within 90 days. At Chancellor University, headquartered in Cleveland, 61 percent of the graduating class of 2010 are working in occupations related to their majors.

“It’s a pretty tight job market within Cleveland but we make an effort to present them with the opportunities that are available and to make sure that our students have the right tools to make them the best candidates,” says Bob McDonald, manager of career services at Chancellor.

Andy Trhlin, 24, who graduated from Chancellor in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, was hired as a police officer in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, in December. Trhlin, who took half of his classes online and half on campus, believes that his degree from Chancellor helped him land the position at the police department.

“It was more than a degree,” he says. “The people took care of you. I’m glad I went there.”

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