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McHenry County employers indifferent on online education in hiring

H. Rick Bamman -
McHenry County College Professional Development Assistant Kathy Hayhurst checks workstations in a training room at the Crystal Lake campus. Hayhurst got both her associates and bachelors degrees by working on line and in traditional classroom settings.
H. Rick Bamman - McHenry County College Professional Development Assistant Kathy Hayhurst checks workstations in a training room at the Crystal Lake campus. Hayhurst got both her associates and bachelors degrees by working on line and in traditional classroom settings.

After making a commitment to get an associate degree partly online, it was much easier for Kathleen Hayhurst of Wonder Lake to transition from a part-time position to a full-time one.

Working as a professional development assistant at McHenry County College, Hayhurst said going to school entirely face-to-face wasn’t an option between work and family obligations. Taking online courses through MCC was more convenient, and it made her feel no less qualified than if she would’ve gotten the degree completely face-to-face, she said.

With more students like Hayhurst coming out of higher education today, a few of the larger employers in the area said for them, a degree obtained completely or partially online is hardly a make or break factor when it comes to hiring.

At Centegra Health System, Director of Employment and Development Matt Johnson said both online and traditional degrees are recognized equally.

If interviewing two candidates with similar experience, the origin of their degrees “wouldn’t be a factor that would weigh real heavily,” Johnson said.

He pointed out that online education wouldn’t be feasible for some positions, such as nurses or other clinical jobs, and a majority of applicants do have traditional brick-and-mortar degrees. Still, Johnson said he’s noticed a higher number of online-educated candidates coming in each year.

Within Crystal Lake School District 47, potential hires with either type of degree also are welcome, Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Greg Buchanan said.

“We approve online courses through accredited universities, and we do have staff who have degrees where a portion of their credits were earned via online coursework,” he said in an email.

The circumstances differ for teachers, though, as undergraduate teaching degrees require student teaching, which means new hires would have had classroom experience regardless of online or face-to-face education, Buchanan said.

The indifference about online education expressed by employers should be good news for local students as distance learning appears to be much more common than in prior years.

The number of online courses offered at MCC skyrocketed 181 percent in six fiscal years, and that’s because of demand, said Ray Lawson, MCC’s director of online learning and educational technology.

“In terms of students in online courses, we have experienced a growth of 133 percent from [fiscal year] 2008 to [fiscal year] 2014,” he said.

Nationally, the trend appears to be the same.

A 2013 survey by Babson Survey Research Group shows a steady increase in the number of students taking at least one online course at U.S. post-secondary degree-granting schools, going from 1.6 million in fall 2002 to 6.7 million in fall 2011.

“Online learning is now becoming part of the fabric of higher education,” Lawson said. “It’s becoming very important for a lot of people because that’s the only way they can continue working and taking care of a family.”

That’s what 42-year-old MCC student Tammy Adams was doing, and the fact that she’s getting a degree completely online hasn’t been important to employers, she added. What’s been important is that she’s getting one, period.

Adams, who in 2013 moved from West Dundee to Nashville, Tennessee, is set to receive an associate degree in May for business administration.

“When I’ve interviewed for positions, people haven’t said anything about getting the degree online,” Adams said. “They said it was good I was going back to get it.”

It’s not all about education, but rather if a candidate is a good match in all aspects, said Rocio Arreola-Escutia, human resources director at Pioneer Center for Human Services.

“[Applicants with online degrees] is not something I’ve encountered a whole lot,” she said. “Now, would it make a difference? Not really.

“We haven’t seen that a lot, but if we did, there’s a lot more that we look at other than just that education piece.”

Throughout the rest of the world, as many as a third of surveyed employers view candidates with online degrees as favorably as those with brick-and-mortar ones, a 2010 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management showed. The survey is the most recent research available on the topic, SHRM spokeswoman Kate Kennedy said.

It also showed more than a half – 55 percent – of organizations said if two applicants with the same level of experience applied for the same position, it wouldn’t make a difference whether one had an online degree.

Speaking from experience with both online and face-to-face learning, Hayhurst said her online schooling was totally aligned with brick-and-mortar courses in terms of rigor.

“The online courses that I’ve taken have been just as rigorous, as far as testing and content and making me think critically,” said Hayhurst, who last month received a bachelor’s degree from Southern Illinois University, again, taking several courses online.

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