Employers Warm to Online MBAs in Coronavirus Pandemic

Once seen as second-rate, online education is gaining favor as the corporate world shifts to remote working

The perception among hiring managers that an Online MBA is a second-rate qualification is improving. Historically, companies were skeptical about the early iterations of online learning. Concerns centered on the fact that these degrees often lacked interactivity between participants and teaching faculty. 

However, the perception of online programs has certainly evolved in the past few years, according to Julie Neill, assistant director of the Office of Career Services at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. “The fact is that graduates receive the same MBA degree and diploma from the institution regardless of the format,” she says. “What does matter greatly, though, is the reputation of the institution which grants the degree and of course, its accreditation.” 

Phil Heavilin, executive director of the Career Development Office at Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business, agrees. “Indeed, perceptions of quality are closely tied to the program’s institution,” he says. “As more business schools with strong brand reputations, selective admissions and rigorous curriculums launch degrees, the reputation of Online MBA programs will continue to rise.” 

Employers are warming up to Online MBA grads

While some organizations still limit their traditional MBA hiring opportunities to those in full-time programs, there has been a shift; more of these opportunities have opened to candidates in online courses. 

“The concern has traditionally been that online students tend to have more years of experience than a full-time MBA candidate, and therefore they may fall outside of the target demographic and may not be a good fit for traditional MBA roles,” says Neill from the Smith School. 

Attitudes are now changing, however. In a study published in the Journal of Employment Counseling, hiring managers were asked whether or not graduating from an online program was a significant factor in hiring decisions. Among 474 participants, 65 percent indicated that it was important for new hires versus 44 percent for promotion. 

More recently, the shift to remote work due to coronavirus has forced many companies to find fresh ways to serve clients and lead teams virtually. “This new experience of successfully working in a virtual environment may have convinced those skeptical of Online MBAs that a quality education can be delivered online,” says Heavilin at Rice: Jones. 

At the last CSEA MBA conference — a global alliance of career management professionals and employers — it was highlighted by companies such as Microsoft, AB Inbev and Google, that technology helps them to recruit at more schools than ever before, whereas most recruiting was previously done on campus. 

And, according to those in attendance, these same companies indicated that Online MBA students have the digital skills required for the current digital workplace. 

“The digital transformation imperative for most companies requires the bringing together of technology and management skills,” says Tommaso Agasisti, associate dean for internationalization, quality and services at MIP Politecnico di Milano. “An Online MBA encompasses all of these skills. Therefore, employers perceive the programs as having a great value.” 

Career resources for Online MBA students

Coronavirus has forced MIP, like many schools, to invest in career resources to support students who face the difficult task of finding a job during a global economic slump and a pandemic. At most institutions, Online MBA students have access to all the same resources as their counterparts who are studying on campus. This includes individual career coaching, webinars, job postings, networking events and company information sessions. 

MIP has added to this roster of support. The Italian school recently hosted a two-day virtual careers fair to connect companies with students. It also created an online portal where companies, students and alumni could access advice, articles and live webinars to help them overcome their current corporate challenges. 

Agasisti says: “The support students receive online had, and will continue to be, just as extensive as it would be in person – and, paradoxically, even more.” 

He points out that Online MBA students also have distinct advantages, including the chance to have more flexibility in their personal and professional life and the freedom to be unconfined to geographical locations. 

“In our hectic world, technology has enhanced our human capability to learn and to engage with each other, and being able to learn online is a privilege that can reap excellent benefits if incorporated into your life effectively,” he says. 

At the same time, attending an Online MBA does not mean that you can’t immerse yourself in the community of the school, he concludes. “Online learning is a rich, international experience, and it permits people to break down cultural barriers and to connect from all corners of the world.”

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