SHRM Poll: Online Degrees Color Employers’ Perceptions of Job Applicants


August 19, 2010

Alexandria, Va.While many HR professionals (49 percent) view an online degree as less favorable than a traditional degree, four out of 10 organizations (43 percent) indicated that an online degree credential is acceptable for an entry-level position.

According to “Hiring Practices and Attitudes: Traditional vs. Online Degree’ Credentials,” a poll released today by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 79 percent of organizations have hired job applicants with online degrees in the last 12 months. The poll assumed both online and traditional schools were accredited.

Whether or not a degree is online would not make a difference to 55 percent of surveyed HR professionals when faced with two job applicants with the same experience.

“As traditional schools continue to open online programs and online schools improve their reputations, we will see an increasing acceptance of online degrees in the workplace,” said Mark Schmit, director of research at SHRM. “The majority of surveyed HR professionals said they think online degrees are viewed more favorably today than five years ago, and a growing number see individual courses taken online as equally credible to courses taken at traditional universities.”

The majority of surveyed HR professionals (64 percent) noted they use certain schools’ reputations with well known online degree programs to ascertain applicants’ online degrees, but some (15 percent) cannot determine the degree type by looking at an applicant’s resume.

“It’s becoming harder to distinguish the online degree because some online degree programs are adding physical locations, and traditional brick and mortar schools are adding online programs,” said Schmit. “Not only is the industry going through an evolutionary period, but it is making an online degree more acceptable by creating a mix of class and online experience.”

The poll, which measures opinions held by 449 randomly selected HR professionals, was conducted July 27 – Aug. 6. Other key findings are:

  • A majority of HR professionals think that the economic recession has led to an increase in the number of job applicants with online degrees – 13 percent “strongly agree” and 59 percent “agree.”
  • Nineteen percent of HR professionals “strongly agree” and 68 percent “agree” online degrees are viewed more favorably today than five years ago.
  • Sixty percent of HR professionals agreed (15 percent “strongly agree,” 45 percent agree) that their organizations prefer job applicants with traditional degrees over applicants with online degrees, presuming similar work experience.

To read the poll, please visit:

About the Society for Human Resource Management

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) is the world’s largest association devoted to human resource management. Representing more than 250,000 members in over 140 countries, the Society serves the needs of HR professionals and advances the interests of the HR profession. Founded in 1948, SHRM has more than 575 affiliated chapters within the United States and subsidiary offices in China and India. Visit SHRM Online at Follow us on Twitter.


Job Finder

Find an HR Job Near You
Search Jobs

Earn a SHRM Talent Acquisition Specialty Credential.

Do you have what it takes to win the war for talent? Find out.

Do you have what it takes to win the war for talent? Find out.



Find the Right Vendor for Your HR Needs

SHRM’s HR Vendor Directory contains over 10,000 companies

Search & Connect

HR Daily Newsletter

News, trends and analysis, as well as breaking news alerts, to help HR professionals do their jobs better each business day.