Americans Say Employers Value In-Person Education Over Online Options

A recent survey, published at the end of July by Strada Education Network, a student loan connector and education to workplace advocate, with Gallup Education Consumer Surveys, had a pretty stark finding.

The survey asked, “When employers are deciding who to hire, how do you think they value in-person education or training compared to online?”

By a whopping 54% margin, (61% to 7%), respondents said employers value in-person education and training more. About a third (32%) said there was no difference, nearly the same amount (31%) as said employers would value in-person education not just more but “much more” than online. Just 3% said employers value online “much more” than in-person education.

“In the minds of Americans, online credentials, credentials that are online, don’t appear to carry much signaling power by themselves,” Andrew R. Hanson, Director of Research for Strada said in a video panel about the research.

That feels like big news. Yet, if you clicked the above link to the one page survey summary with helpful and inviting graphics, you won’t see the 61% to 7% on perceived employment value. To find it, you have to go to the separate, seven page “top line findings” document where it’s literally the last question on the last page.

The lopsided outcome underscores the deep divide that lingers around online learning, how much people still really do not like or respect it. That you have to dig to find it underscores how much the education technology community does not want to talk about it.

Instead, the easily digestible public summary highlights results such as that “Three in 10 Americans say that even if COVID-19 was not a threat, they’d prefer an online-only learning option.”

That’s fair enough.

Still, “three in 10” is an odd way of saying 70% do not prefer an online-only option. And when you pull up the full results you see that, in response to that question, more people (41%) said they actually preferred face-to-face instruction “if Covid-19 was not a threat.”  By 13 points (41% to 28%), the Strada/Gallup survey found that people prefer face-to-face instruction over online, absent the influence of Covid-19. But only the “three in ten” who prefer online is in the summary.

The summary also shares that, “Similar shares of Americans say online-only, hybrid, and in-person education would be the best value for their money.”  

Again, true. The survey does show that, when asked about “best value for their money,” Americans did not really have a consensus. It was 33%, 33% and 34% each for face-to-face, hybrid and online only.

But again, the longer survey document asked three other questions with the same format – asking people to choose among those three education types, face-to-face, hybrid and online. By five points, respondents said face-to-face was best for having the “highest likelihood of completing a program.” By 12%, they said face-to-face “would best prepare me for success in my job and career.” On which method would, “allow me to learn most effectively,” face-to-face was preferred again, this time by 9% over online.

All three show a preference for face-to-face learning. Not one made its way to the summary and graphics page. Instead, Strada and Gallup chose to push forward the finding on “value for the money,” the only result that, by virtue of being tied, did not show a deficit for online learning.

But the key finding, the one with the most consequence, and therefore the biggest neglect in not publicizing, was the employer value question, the 61% to 7% result in favor of in-person education.

That’s a big deal because employability is a core educational value and such a lopsided finding on perceived employer value, might be news. You might think someone, anyone, would want to share that information, especially considering the title of the Strada report is, “The Value of Online Education” and that Strada says they, “help people connect their education to meaningful careers.”

But, as mentioned – it wasn’t.  

This is not the first time Gallup has been fuzzy with its spin in favor of teaching and learning technology, or allowed others to be. Further, the Strada video panel to discuss the findings featured leaders from two large online college programs but no one from a traditional, in-person program.

Maybe that’s minor and pedantic. But it’s frustrating that, at a time when we all need honest conversations and unfiltered information, it’s so difficult to get either one about online learning at the college level. Maybe that’s because most of the time the people doing the research are actually invested in the outcomes. And maybe that’s because they’re the only ones who can afford to do it.

Whatever the reasons, if you read only the summary of this particular survey, you’d get the idea that online education is popular and respected. If you read the survey itself, you would see that this survey shows it is not. That kind of selective sharing leaks into bad reporting and bad public information.  

Yes, reporters and writers should read the actual results. At the same time, survey takers should not hide what they know. Given where we are, with so many schools pressured to move entirely online again, it feels as though we should know that, by overwhelming margins, people think employers do not value online education. It also feels like something more than carelessness that we don’t.

Republished by permission.