Evaluating Online Universities during the Hiring Process
Shrives, Mark, Public Management
As more students enroll in and graduate from online universities, municipal employers are increasingly seeing degrees from these universities listed on prospective employees' resumes. Online education is, however, still a new concept to most of us.
When you are interviewing candidates for public management jobs who attended online universities, how do you evaluate their academic credentials? How can you be sure that you are getting the caliber of employee you're looking for?
While I was the city manager of Hamilton, Montana (population 3,700), I decided I wanted to work in a larger city and considered earning my master's degree in public administration at an online university. Because I had no experience with the world of online education (I had earned my B.S. degree in history from the University of California at Santa Barbara), I had many questions.
To answer my questions, I evaluated master's degree programs at several online universities using a few key benchmarks. Today, both as a student in the M.P.A. program at Walden University and as city manager of Creswell, Oregon (population 4,200), I know that if I were considering hiring a graduate of an online university, I would evaluate his or her school using the same benchmarks that I used to evaluate my own.
The first, and perhaps most important, factor is that the university be regionally accredited. Reputable colleges and universities in the United States are accredited by one of the six regional bodies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. These are the Higher Learning Commission, North Central Association of Colleges and Schools; the Commission on Higher Education, Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools; the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education, New England Association of Schools and Colleges; the Northwest Association of Accredited Schools; the Commission on Colleges, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools; and the Senior College Commission, Western Association of Schools and Colleges. These accrediting bodies have Web sites that you can search to verify a university's accreditation.
When I found an online university that was not accredited by one of these regional bodies, I took this lack as a red flag--a sign that its curriculum was, at least in some areas, sub-par or even that the "university" might be a diploma mill. …