Frank Weinhold was a hospital pharmacy director when he went back for another college degree. Given his full-time day job, traditional schooling was not a good option.
"Eventually I would have probably had to take a year or two out of working to get the degree or I wouldn't have gotten it at all," said Weinhold, now director of pharmacy at Menorah Medical Center in Overland Park.
Weinhold received his doctor of pharmacy degree in Kansas University's lone online degree offering. He is among those taking part in the burgeoning area of online courses and degrees. The Web site worldwidelearn.com lists hundreds of online degree programs ranging from the humanities to gas engineering.
But employers' perceptions are as varied as the offerings.
"There is still a little bit of a stigma with online degrees in some fields," said David Gaston, director of KU's Career Center. "It depends on the employer."
And it may depend on the program.
In a survey of human resource executives at a Society of Human Resource Management conference, half of those surveyed said they would select a job candidate with an online degree from a traditional school over one from a for-profit education business, such as the University of Phoenix. The survey was conducted by the Online University Consortium, an alliance of online degree programs.
When compared with traditional courses, online degrees just don't have the same reputation, said Karen Silins, a multi-certified resume writer and career coach and president of A+ Career and Resume in Kansas City.
"The in-class work is always going to make a bigger impression," she said.
But a degree earned online is better than no degree at all. Silins said her advice to job seekers contemplating an online education was to pick a reputable institution.
"You're ensuring that there's name recognition and a quality there that the person on the other end of the table already assumes," Silins said.
John Dooney, manager of strategic research with the Society of Human Resource Management, said perceptions of online degrees were changing, boosted partly by the increasing practice of businesses paying for employees' retraining efforts with online programs.
Dooney said many people could relate to the fact that people have busy lives and have to take courses online for career advancement.
"It's something that's not so out there as it once was," he said.
Online at KU
KU has not rushed into the online degree business.
It started the doctor of pharmacy degree about seven years ago, said Ronald Ragan, director of the program and associate dean in the pharmacy school. By the end of this semester, it will have had about 150 graduates, he said.
But the university chose to bring the degree online after considering several other possibilities, including satellite night and weekend classes and delivering instruction on videotape.
Ragan said it's possible to develop poorly monitored and poorly run online courses and programs, but he maintains that KU's pharmacy degree isn't one of them.
Ragan said the university could run software programs to determine whether students plagiarize on submitted work. He said he believed it was actually easier to catch academic misconduct with the program's online courses than in traditional courses.
"I think we have established a program that allows us to monitor the academic progress of students in a way that we're very confident that a graduate of our program has the skills they need to practice pharmacy," he said.
Susan Zvacek, KU's instructional development and support director, said she believed KU would be strategic in its online offerings.
"I don't see in the near future a bunch of degree programs getting going," she said. "We're not out of the game, but I think KU has been very cautious about moving too quickly on this."