MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Brown College announced Wednesday it will be phasing out its traditional classes and ultimately shutting down in light of a “more difficult higher education marketplace and challenging regulatory environment.” Instead, Career Education Corporation, the company that owns Brown, said it will focus on online courses.

According to the Online Learning Consortium and the National Center for Education Statistics, distance learning is a huge and growing market. In 2012, 32 percent of people had taken at least one online course, compared with 16 percent in 2004.

But do employers look at degrees from an online university differently? Good Question.

“I think they’re still trying to figure out what online degrees mean,” Paul DeBettignies, principal of Minnesota Headhunter, LLC, said.

An infographic produced by Education Today finds the average age of an online learner is 34. Just over half (53 percent) are women and 81 percent are employed.

“I just kind of wanted a little more stimulation, because I missed learning things,” Morgan Chang of Minneapolis, who went back to school while working full-time, said.

DeBettignies said years ago, many employers wondered if online universities were simply “resume mills” that didn’t offer much in the way of education. But, he said, with the rise of schools like Capella University in Minneapolis, as well as Stanford and Princeton offering classes online, the perception is changing slowly. He credits new technology that makes it easier to tell who is taking the online tests.

“It’s still new enough,” DeBettignies said. “People are just struggling with that piece. I think five or 10 years from now, this will be commonplace. We’re just not there yet.”

A survey by Public Agenda, a non-profit that works on education issues, found 45 percent of employers think online classes require more discipline, but 56 percent still say they’d rather have an applicant who learned in the classroom.

Perry Wedum, Regional Vice-President of Experis, a technology recruiting firm, said some of its clients are starting to look at candidates with two-year degrees, but most corporations still require a four-year traditional degree.

“It comes down to the company and the manager,” Wedum said.

Mary Massad, division president of recruiting services for Insperity, a recruiting firm, says about 75 percent of her clients embrace online degrees.

“My sense is that the value of a degree is still more closely tied to the reputation of the school itself, rather than the delivery method used,” Carleen Kerttula, head of program innovation at University of St. Thomas’s Opus School of Business, said.

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