Online degrees are a recent development in the long history of higher education. Distance learning began in 1989, soon after the advent of the internet. So it’s understandable that people may ask some critical questions: Are online degrees respected? Will employers think less of me if I have an online degree?

As online education has matured, degrees earned online have become far more respectable than at first. In this article, we’ll look at online education in the U.S. and help you determine how to find the best and most respected online programs for your education.

Online Degrees Are Now Mainstream

Online degree programs have evolved over the years. As technology has improved, it has become easier for students to access their programs and take courses as they wish. Professors, too, have gained experience in teaching online and have developed more effective pedagogy for their online students.

The result? According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2020, roughly 75 percent of undergraduate students took at least one distance learning class online, and 44 percent took online courses exclusively.

The pandemic, of course, played a primary role in encouraging online learning. As cases of COVID-19 waned, students continued to sign up for online courses because they offered a flexible and efficient way to access programs of interest.

Northeastern University’s 2018 report, Educational Credentials Come of Age, likewise indicates that online education trends are strong and steady. At the time of the report, 16 percent of all higher education students were enrolled in online classes, while 61 percent of hiring managers and human resource professionals stated that online credentials were as rigorous or more so than in-person learning. Seventy-one percent of HR leaders had personally hired someone with an online degree or credential. These numbers have likely risen in the intervening five years.

How to Find a Respectable Online Degree Program

It’s worth noting that not all online programs are created equal. A small subset of programs available lack the rigor of a traditional classroom-based program. It’s important to do your homework to ensure that the program you choose will give you the best education possible, and will be immediately respected by hiring managers.

How can you tell a good program from a bad one? Consider the following factors:

Nonprofit status

In general, for-profit schools have a poor reputation in the academic world. When an institution is expected to generate profit, corners may be cut to gain the largest payback possible. Non-profit institutions, which make up the majority of America’s colleges and universities, are not primarily in existence to turn a profit for shareholders. Thus, funding can be spent on ensuring that programs, professors, and support personnel are at the top of their fields.

The perception that for-profit institutions provide a less than rigorous educational experience is backed up by research. A report by the Brookings Institution highlighted several studies that indicated worse outcomes for students of these colleges and universities than those who attended private or public non-profits. The studies also showed a negligible earnings gain for students who attend for-profit schools.


Accreditation is a primary indicator of a school’s educational program quality. Accrediting organizations must be vetted by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Accreditation is a lengthy, rigorous process that is repeated at regular intervals, often every ten years, that shines a spotlight on a school’s programs and services. Accreditation includes both self-review and peer review and aims to assess and improve the academic quality of public accountability of institutions.

A school accredited by a CHEA-sanctioned agency has been shown to provide educational opportunities that benefit students — and, eventually, their employers. Lack of accreditation should be a major red flag when you are searching for an online degree program. When you apply to a school, be sure to ask the admissions representative about the school’s accreditation.

Job placement rate

Another question you should ask when you apply to an online program is what percentage of alumni have positions in their field within a year of graduation. This data may be available on the college’s website — look for an “about us” or a “fast facts” page. A high job placement rate indicates that the school’s programs are respected by hiring managers.

Job placement rate is considered one of the most important indicators of quality by the U.S. Department of Education. A school with a high job placement rate can be assumed to focus on academic quality, imbuing its students with critical thinking skills as well as the intellectual tools they will need to excel in their fields. It’s also an indication of a robust career services office that works to help students negotiate the complexities of a job hunt.

Acing the Interview

So, what do you tell the recruiter about your degree when you’re in a job interview? You’re not under any obligation to tell them that your degree was earned online, of course. But should you?

Consider this: students who undertake online degree programs are generally motivated, dedicated students who may have multiple responsibilities, such as a job or family commitments. More so than in a traditional classroom-based program, they need to possess a high degree of self-discipline and focus to complete their work successfully. Online students also need to develop highly-honed skills for collaboration and teamwork, which can be more challenging to accomplish online than in person.

These are traits that employers are looking for, too. So rather than considering your online degree a liability, you’d be better off if you acknowledge that your degree was earned online and explain to your interviewer why this experience makes you more suited than most for the job.

The Benefits of Earning an Online Degree

For many students, an online degree opens the door to a world of academic achievement they might not otherwise be able to access. It’s worth considering an online degree, for example, if you are interested in a field that is not represented in your local area colleges. There are many other reasons to consider them: from the lack of a commute to increased flexibility when taking your classes.

Professionals are increasingly recognizing the value of online programs. You can now view your online degree as an asset rather than a liability.

Find The Best Online Degree Program For You

The Best Online Degrees of 2023

Interested in a degree instead?

Learn more about online degrees, their start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.