Employers split on the value of online versus in-person degrees


Many business schools offer both virtual and in-person education – but what how do employers view the graduates of each option? A new survey by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) reveals that 54% of employers consider graduates of online and in-person programmes to be equally valuable.

However, the survey also finds that those who have completed a fully in-person programme are more likely to be perceived as having stronger leadership and communication skills compared to those who obtained their degree from an online programme.

The Corporate Recruiters Survey by GMAC provides annual insights on hiring trends and skill demands, with the latest report focusing on future workplace skills employers see as growing in importance, as well as how current global trends are affecting hiring decisions worldwide. The report surveys leading global firms, with over half of the sample of employers coming from Fortune 500 companies.

Employers worldwide are showing a growing preference towards graduates of in-person programmes over online programmes; compared to last year, they are actually less likely to view graduates of online and in-person programmes equally in their organisation.

“As time moves further and further away from the Covid and lockdown era, we’re seeing a small increase in favour of in-person programmes by employers worldwide, especially in the US,” says Europe Regional Director at GMAC, Nalisha Patel. “It’s not that a vast majority of employers see online programmes as a worse education experience for graduates, the preference overall is only slightly higher in favour of in-person programmes. But employers have a perception of graduates, one where the in-person candidate has stronger business acumen than the online candidate.”

Consulting firms align with US trends

Employers from Asia and the United States differ from the global average in several aspects. Central or South Asian employers (90%) and East and Southeast Asian employers (71%) believe that online and in-person degrees hold equal value. However, approximately 75% of employers from both regions place higher value on in-person graduates’ leadership, communication, and technical skills compared to online graduates.

In contrast, only 27% of US employers value both types of degrees equally, which is 2% lower than last year. Although U.S. employers generally prioritise in-person degrees, only 43% believe that in-person graduates have better technical skills than online graduates.

Consulting firms also tend to have a similar perception to the US. Only 32% of consulting employers view online and in-person degrees equally, and fewer than half say in-person graduates bring more technical skills to their work than online graduates.

Essential skills for graduates

Other findings in the report highlight communication, data analysis, and strategy expertise as the most essential skills for graduates according to surveyed employers. Moreover, they anticipate that these proficiencies will gain even greater significance in the future, which is characterised by increased global connectivity through even more diverse mediums than at present.

As a result, multilingualism, active listening, and cross-cultural competence are also underlined by surveyed employers to become increasingly indispensable over the next five years.

The report highlights an opportunity for business schools and graduates to convey their transferable skills to employers, and address where employers may have doubts regarding online programmes.

For over 20 years now, The Corporate Recruiters Survey has been providing data and insights to graduate business schools and employers. This year, the report came from over 1,000 surveys conducted between January and March 2023, with 34 nationalities represented.

For additional insights, trends and perspectives on employability, visit the conversation here.