Kent looks to offer online degrees

Bethany English

Though Kent State offers many online courses, a completely online undergraduate degree is not yet available. But it may be soon.

Provost Robert Frank said completely online undergraduate degrees will be available at Kent State in the “not so distant future.”

Penn State University created an online degree program in 1998 called the World Campus. This program has been successful over the years, said David Aneckstein, director of outreach news and communications at Penn State.

Aneckstein said the World Campus is quickly becoming one of the largest campuses at Penn State with 10,000 students enrolled. The largest campus is at University Park where about 43,000 students take classes.

He cited information from the Sloan Consortium that claimed 4.6 million people took at least one online course in 2008. This is a 17 percent jump from the previous year, which is much higher than the 1.2 percent student growth in all higher education.

Aneckstein said he thinks he understands why the jump has been so significant.

“We are so used to getting things on our terms,” Aneckstein said.

He compared online courses to DVR recordings and online shopping. They are activities a person can access and use when he or she has the time.

Penn State also blends online learning with on-campus education. Some students come to campus for a weekend to meet with each other face to face.

The biggest challenge to online education for Kent State so far has been to create online labs that can be done at home to fulfill the science requirement.

Many master’s degrees are already targeted toward the online element, such as music education and nursing, Frank said.

While commercials are pushing for online degrees you can “earn in your pajamas,” the question about online learning is whether employers value online degrees and traditional degrees equally.

Barbara O’Neill, group recruiting supervisor at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, hired 15 Kent State students within the last year. She said the only requirement for the sales position is a four-year degree.

“We don’t look at specific colleges,” O’Neill said.

While the company doesn’t scrutinize where the degree is earned, a large part of the interviewing process is focused on involvement in student organizations or leadership positions.

This could be a disadvantage for online students who don’t have access to a physical campus environment, O’Neill explained.

Amanda Pokorny, sophomore integrated mathematics major, said she thinks some employers could be biased toward online degrees.

Pokorny is currently enrolled in an online course, but she said she prefers traditional classrooms.

“If you’re doing something, there’s no proof that you’re the one actually doing it,” Pokorny said. “You have the internet, books, other people — everything you need at your disposal.”

But Pokorny didn’t rule out online education for everyone. She said adult students with families or full-time jobs might find it more convenient to take online courses because it’s less time consuming.

Another employer, Barbara Marvin, director of recruiting for 21st Century Financial, said four-year degrees are the only requirement for prospective employees.

Marvin said she understands the importance of online education.

“I think the online outlet is pretty valuable,” Marvin said.

She also said online classes are helpful for students who have very busy schedules and multiple commitments. It offers those individuals the opportunity to go to school when they might not have been able to otherwise.

Frank said bias toward online learning used to be more prominent than it is now, but he does not see that holding up over time. The main reason for this, Frank said, is that too much good online education is available now.

He explained that the main concern for employers is the type of person they will be hiring, not the name on the degree.

“Employers want to know what was the quality of the education and what skills does the person have at the end of that degree,” Frank said.

Aneckstein said employers find a Penn State degree “equally impressive” whether it is earned online or on campus. He added that online degrees are becoming very important in all institutions of higher education.

“I think it’s something universities have to do to be competitive in the future,” Aneckstein said.

Contact Bethany English at [email protected].