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Those Correspondence Degrees

We all know that distance education is the future because people in the business of distance education tell us so. I just wish that had been an option when I was younger, because I would have loved to get an entire degree interacting with nothing other than my computer and my cat.

Not everyone thinks so highly of them, though. In my post on Alaskan hijinks, I quoted one of the people working in the library:

You have to do it by correspondence — people don’t look well on correspondence degrees — or you have to leave the state.

That’s the kind of comment that people with correspondence degrees definitely won’t like. For example, this person:

Someone needs to tell those bozos that these days it’s called “distance education”.

I got my MLIS from the University of Illinois via their LEEP program (aka “distance education”). Given the UIUC is has been the top library school in the country for a number of years now, I can assure you that my “correspondence degree” is quite well regarded, thank you very much. It even managed to get me a decent job, all without having to leave my home state.

It’s good to see someone standing up for distance education, I guess. Although one person having a distance ed degree from “the top library school in the country” might not be the norm.

I don’t have any data because I can’t be bothered to search for any, but I’m assuming large online only programs like San Jose State (ranked #33 by US News) churn out a lot more graduates than the University of Illinois. How do they fare? Are those graduates doing just fine in the job market?

I took a look at the ALA accredited programs that offer a degree that is “100% online program available”. Illinois isn’t on the list for some reason, but the only two programs on the list that are ranked in the top ten are Rutgers and Drexel. There are 4 more in the second ten. 2 more in the third ten.

That’s 8 programs out of 22 that are in the top 30, in a list that only includes about 50 schools. If we just go by rankings, understanding all the problems with that, the chances are pretty good that a lot of online MLS degrees come from schools ranked in the bottom 40% of all library schools. 6 of the 22 degrees are from the bottom 20% of ranked schools. Do they fare as well on the job market?

Also, how do other librarians view those degrees? Sure, someone with a degree from the top ranked library school won’t have to worry about reputation, but what about someone with an online degree from the bottom ranked schools? Maybe it’s that sort of reputation that motivated a further comment:

I know you won’t want to hear this, but every library I have worked at has a policy of not hiring anyone with a distance education degree. Say what you want, but it is not the same thing as a face to face education.

Do others know of policies like this? I’m assuming this is informal, because I’ve never seen a job ad that specified a library degree couldn’t be distance ed. I can only imagine the controversy that would erupt if any library did that. And if it were written down somewhere, it would probably be made public eventually.

Librarians are often in need of research agendas. I’d like to see a study comparing the job placement statistics of face-to-face versus distance ed library school students. Anecdotally, I’m not aware of any big difference, but it would be interesting to see the data.

Anyway, it’s something to think about for those of you considering that correspondence degree. Apparently there are libraries out there that won’t hire you.

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Comments

  1. Brock Martin says:

    I have yet to encounter a colleague who was either better- or more ill-prepared for work in the field based on where they received their MLS. It’s the person, not the source of the degree, that either makes or breaks his or her employment.

    If there actually are institutions that refuse to hire people who received their degree via distance education, how pathetic, and possibly a media nightmare.

  2. Andrea says:

    I’m glad you brought the topic up, and don’t mean to criticize, but I do want to point out that the University of Washington iSchool has a 100% online program, and we’re ranked #3 by US News.

    I can’t decide if the distaste for “correspondence” is enraging or disheartening. With 63 ALA-accredited programs nationwide, distance ed is the only option for many of us. And yes, it’s not a perfect or exactly equivalent experience to a residential program. But in my experience, the majority of what distance students miss out on are the extras- the internships, TA positions, pre-coordinated experiential learning, local scholarships, etc. This means we have to create our own opportunities where we are, which requires initiative, creative thinking, and the ability to develop relationships and work independently- remarkably similar qualities to those I see listed over and over in job postings. Distance learning also requires tremendous self-discipline and self-motivation, the ability to to work independently and collaboratively (often across multiple time zones and navigating several packed schedules), and mastery of many technologies. Again- the qualifications I see over and over again in job postings.

    It makes me feel incredibly disappointed to see that any library would use distance learning as an automatic disqualification. I genuinely believe that it is their loss.

    • Sockie says:

      Wouldn’t that also be considered discrimination? We wouldn’t dare not hire someone because they’re the wrong race, or gender, or have the wrong socio-economic background – why would we rule out people who may have decided that an online degree, while not preferable, was the best option for them? To me, it smacks of “these kids and their new-fangled computers.”

    • Jamie says:

      Sockie, federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race or gender. Socio-economic class and distance learning are not protected categories.

  3. Not this nonsense again. If you can make a difference in this profession or to a library or to users, then it doesn’t matter if you got your degree while hanging upside down from a tree branch. All that matters is what you can do with what you learned.

  4. John Cohen says:

    I will say that I got my degree 100% online, but I feel that the fact I worked in libraries for 16 years (including as a director of a small library) helped me immensely in earning the degree. But it probably would have done that whether I was online or traditional.

  5. me says:

    I think the success of job placement for distance learners depends a lot on why they choose to do distance learning. Most of the people that I know that have gotten online MLS degrees have done it while working in a library already. They got the degree to get either a higher salary, promotion, etc.

    Considering the relatively low-pay of the library field I don’t think that library school rankings mean much. Maybe it’s just me but I just went to the library school that was 30 minutes away from where I lived. But I imagine that is most people’s criteria. I wasn’t going to move from the east coast to Illinois or Washington because they have the #1 and #3 ranked iSchool. I also wasn’t going to pay out of state tuition to get a degree online when I was able to just get a grad assistantship that paid for the whole thing (or pay instate tuition if I hadn’t). I waited until someone offered me an actual paying job to make that move west.

  6. Mary Jo says:

    Library school rankings don’t mean anything – it’s just library school employees voting for each other. The methodology has ZERO science behind it. From the US News website:

    U.S. News ranked 51 master’s degree programs in library and information studies in the United States that are accredited by the American Library Association. The rankings are based solely on the results of a fall 2012 survey sent to the dean of each program, the program director, and a senior faculty member in each program.

    The peer assessment questionnaires asked individuals to rate the academic quality of programs at each institution on a scale of 1 (marginal) to 5 (outstanding). Individuals who were unfamiliar with a particular school’s programs were asked to select “don’t know.”

    Scores for each school were totaled and divided by the number of respondents who rated that school. Each accredited program received three surveys and was asked to return all three to U.S. News. The response rate was 59 percent. The peer assessment surveys were conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs.

  7. Sockie says:

    The trouble is, there aren’t a lot of options when it comes to ALA-accredited library schools. Even if you’d prefer face to face interaction, when there are two library schools in the entire state, your choices are either 1) do it online, or 2) move to the other end of hell.

  8. c says:

    I am just about to finish up with my MLS from TWU ranked # 38. I chose this because it was either online, or put off my wedding for another 2-3 years (keep in mind my fiance and I had been long distance for 5 years already) while I finished my degree. Perhaps more because I would have had to move to the other side of the state, and find an apartment and job which means more debt. While I do feel like I have missed out on some of the opportunities offered by face to face education, I also feel like I have a leg up on some candidates. I work in both an academic and public library part-time, and potential employers, including the two I have now, have mentioned that it must take a lot of self motivation to do this. They have been really impressed with this. I think it matters how you spin this, but I think it is important for future grads to be prepared with answering the distance vs face to face degree. I have learned a lot of skills from this experience, some that I would have learned by going to the campus, some that I learned specifically because of this option, and there are some skills that I am lacking. But that is similar to all grads.

  9. anonymous says:

    Where both options are available, that is, where schools offer both a face to face and online delivery of a course, students select online sections by a 2 to 1 majority, even when they are local to the school.

    Further, online offerings have changed markedly in just the last couple of years. Face to face sections use online course management systems such as D2L or Blackboard for moderated discussion, assignment tracking and discussion, and other components. Online classes use hybrid delivery models including telepresence video conferencing, workgroup activity and collaboration, real-time synchronous presentations and work-study opportunities with real human supervision.

    It’s time to put stereotypes aside and look at what is actually happening in the classroom. Today’s online students in programs that know how to use technology effectively may get more face time than students enrolled in traditional face to face delivery models. And given their preference where both delivery models are available, students today convincingly prefer the online or hybrid offerings.

    Traditional face to face take-two-years-of-your-life-and-live-in-a-dorm delivery mechanisms simply do not meet the needs of many or most of today’s students seeking graduate degrees while managing work and family.

    Online programs can provide experiences just as rich, immersive, and personalized as more traditional models.

  10. Teen/Outreach Librarian says:

    Well since I am walking the stage tomorrow in acceptance of my online only (well all but 1 course) MLIS degree from Wayne State University, I feel the need to give my 2 cents. I chose the online option because I was employed full time in a public library. About a year into my studies I was promoted to a librarian position. Then early this year I applied and accepted a librarian position at another library. So I am now holding 2 part-time librarian positions. There were weeks were I worked a little over 40 hours. I had to complete my degree during early mornings, late nights and Sundays. It was an insane amount of work. It could be considered more because you lack the class discussion portion and instead have to write essay type responses on forums to interact with professors and classmates.
    I know my success may not be considered the average outcome for distance-ed students. However it is true that you get out of it what you put into it. It’s graduate school, very comparable to the on campus curriculum. If you do not get a B or better in a course, you end up on academic probation. The same policy as with on campus course. The learning outcomes are the same. The level of coursework is the same. The lectures are videos and/or powerpoint presentations with audio. The good thing about that is the lectures are available to watch over and over if necessary. Tests are often timed and with the mountain of information they cover, open book doesn’t mean much when the clock is ticking.

    Online courses were very convenient for me. As a working mom and wife who lives in the suburb 30 miles north of Detroit, where my school is located, the online only coursework fit my lifestyle.

    I am proud of my degree and I look forward to accepting it in person, rather than attend the live webinar that they provide!

  11. Drew Alfgren says:

    “I know you won’t want to hear this, but every library I have worked at has a policy of not hiring anyone with a distance education degree. Say what you want, but it is not the same thing as a face to face education.”
    – I have no idea of how many libraries this person has worked at, or how long ago, but every person I know who has gotten an online MLS (two from Drexel, one from San Jose, two from UMD) has had no more or less trouble getting a job than those with degrees from 3D schools. Same programs, often with more rigorous assignments and deadlines. It often takes a lot more determination to finish an online program, you don’t have a cohort of fellow students to share the miseries or the victories.

  12. The Original "A Nonny-Like Moose" says:

    Can you honestly fault someone with this opinion about the online programs? There’s a lot in higher education that is as much ambition and progress as it is malarkey. Like schools who boast their satellite campuses equal to the quality of a flagship or main campus, but rely on stuffy facilities and adjunct faculty…schools were saying their online programs were equal in quality to their classroom versions, all while having old software/platforms, untrained faculty, un/underdeveloped curricula, limited course access, etc….how good is it, really?

  13. c says:

    Origianl-Have you ever taken an online class from one of these schools? I am online at TWU and can honestly say that yes technology sometimes fails us, sometimes our computer get viruses and we need new ones, sometimes BlackBoard isn’t working and we need to have a work around. Mostly though, its just like if you were going to campus to sit in the classroom. Things break, technology is both a hindrance and a help. Most of the professors I have had were very good, had well developed curriculum, and were available for help when you needed them, not all, but most. I have done both, and I have to say the biggest difference is that I feel when you are online your are given more work to ensure that you are “doing the work” and participating. I don’t fault anyone who thinks that my degree isn’t quite up to snuff compared with someone elses, until they tell me that have never taken an all online course. If you haven’t done it, don’t presume to understand the differences.

    • The Original "A Nonny-Like Moose" says:

      I don’t disagree. I just don’t understand why people would be shocked over hiring managers having a “UoP-like” opinion about the MLS programs. Schools instantly stamped them as equals despite the numerous issues of any formative venture, and I don’t doubt HM’s and committees started seeing trends in candidates. Seriously, how many applicants do institutions get from people with degrees but no concurrent, or any field experience?

  14. me too says:

    MLS is a green card. Just a right of passage to a better job. Doesn’t matter where the degree was obtain, only THAT is was obtained. We all did a rediculous amout of work, on campus and from home. Let it go. Librarians are supposedly egalitarian.

  15. MK says:

    I received my degree from Drexel completely online, it is not mentioned on my diploma, and while I have mentioned taking online courses in interviews, I don’t indicate exactly how many. I figure if the university doesn’t make any distinction between an on-campus and an online degree, why should I? So far I have a job that I love so everything’s working out okay at this point, and hopefully the more experience I get the less the mode of my education will matter.

  16. Truth says:

    Anyone who believes that school rankings matter are complete fools, especially when it comes to the MLIS. They’re just degree mills.

  17. M.S.C says:

    What if I’m stuck in Connecticut? You think an online degree from Rutgers would look worse than an in-person degree from SCSU? At least Rutgers is ranked.

  18. W.G. says:

    So, online vs. resident degree? I say it doesn’t matter. I have found that, and some don’t want to hear this, that the MLS does little to prepare one for the real world. At least within the special library world. I think academia needs to wake up and quit being so pompous.

  19. BlueBindweed says:

    For many of us, it doesn’t really matter whether one is superior to the other — with so many people crushed by student debt, it’s a rational decision to get the degree you can afford. Many of the people I see in online programs are people who are actively working in libraries and are placebound. I can see where a starry-eyed 22-year-old with little to no library experience might truly need the face to face experience. But a 40ish person already working in a library? Not so much. It makes absolutely no sense to incur tens of thousands of dollars of debt to quit a full time job and move to where there’s a library school, possibly incurring the cost of maintaining two households if you are married. Especially given the typical starting salaries in the profession. There are a lot of places where you would have difficulty attracting outside candidates with MLS’s, but you have energetic, highly competent people on staff who would benefit — and their library would benefit — from the education an online MLS provides.

  20. Penny says:

    I notice that a number of the respondents to this post say they received (or are working towards) their MLS while they were working in a library. From what I have seen (I am responsible for recruitment in my academic library, and have contacts with others who do the same) it is the library experience that gives the applicant the edge. If those same distance ed students had no library experience they would have a much smaller chance of getting hired. Make no mistake, there is a bias against hiring those with a distance ed MLS. No one will say it out loud, but it’s there.

    I was at an ALA event recently and there was a table in the exhibit hall for San Jose State. Since I receive many applications from San Jose State students, I wanted to find out how the program coordinated internships with students from all over the country and what kind of support students received in trying to secure internships or practicums in their local areas. I didn’t get a satisfying response. Now that could have been due to the knowledge of the person in the booth at that time, but it would seem to me that any person responsible for potential recruitment should have been able to answer this question.

  21. Steve says:

    I am a graduate of SJSU’s 100% program, and I think it better prepared me for Library 2.0 than a traditional face-to-face program. Navigating various content management platforms and utilizing virtual reference sources placed me in the shoes of many of my potential patrons. Furthermore, online programs require a high degree of self-discipline, independence, and self-reliance; three attributes that are vital in the workforce. I am happy to say that I have had plenty of employment opportunities post-graduation.

    • Penny says:

      Hi Steve,
      What was your internship experience at San Jose? Also, can you share what are some of the employment opportunities you’ve had since graduation?

    • Steve says:

      I’m currently in an administrative position in a large public library system. I was offered positions in an academic library, a special library, and several public library positions. I opted to give public libraries a try–best decision I ever made! I elected not to complete an internship at SJSU, as I already had a decade worth of academic library experience at the para-professional level. As I recall, each student had personal responsibility for locating an internship and having it approved by a faculty adviser–who, in turn, handled the evaluation aspect with feedback/input from the site supervisor. They also had an aggregation tool that students could use to locate appropriate internships.

      Like many others, I believe that asynchronous, distance education is the future. As a graduate of such a program, I believe that I am (and those like me are) uniquely qualified for positions dealing with distance librarianship, virtual reference, and integration of social technologies into the library.

  22. Penny says:

    @Steve-Thanks for sharing your info. You are an example of what I have seen; your previous work in a library proved to be a great advantage when you were seeking employment. I’ve seen resumes from SJSU (and other distance learning programs) where the applicant went directly from undergrad to the LIS program; the person has little to no work experience (not just in a library, but anywhere.) Those students seem to have the most difficulty getting a job. I wonder just what kind of discussion (if any) distance learning programs have with applicants about the importance of any internship or having previous library experience. Some of the recent grads have no clue how difficult it is to get a job in librarianship with little or no experience. This, after sinking tens of thousands of dollars for a degree.

    Like you, I think asynchronous distance education will become a much larger part of the future, but I don’t know that I agree with all the positives that are being presented by distance education providers. I work at a public institution, and our legislators are grabbing at anything to reduce costs, or anything they think will reduce costs.

  23. I Like Books says:

    I’m trying to decide how an online class would be so different from my brick-and-mortar experience. Go into the classroom, sleep through lecture, during class discussion feel the urge to make an observation except multiple, synchronous voices carries the discussion into a different area, when class is over hurry off to work, and then do homework at home, alone. Of course there’s group projects, where the group members meet during class, decide which piece each one will work on, do their work individually, and try to find a meeting time when somebody isn’t in class or working. At the brick-and-mortar I can see notices of concerts or other school events that I can’t attend because of scheduling conflicts. A face-to-face meeting with the teacher is useful in a math or physics class when you can sit down and draw vector diagrams and write out equations together, point and say “Where did that come from?”, but library school doesn’t have a lot of vector diagrams.

    Seriously, I’ve done it both ways. There’s something about walking around campus in the brisk autumn air, enjoying a protest rally on the way to class, but I don’t think one way learns me up better than another.

  24. Jessica says:

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think University of Illinois was on the list of 100% distance schools because you do have attend campus one weekend during the semester.

  25. Michelle says:

    When considering “distance education” we must remember we’re not ‘comparing apple to apples’. Not all distance ed is equal, just as all face-to-face is not equal. There are poorly designed courses in all delivery modes- think the ‘sage on the stage’ in a lecture hall. My MLIS was through the University of Alabama’s distance education program which was a very positive and rigorous experience that has well-prepared me for the current challenges of librarianship.

  26. RB says:

    I think most library school students now go completely online. I will say that personally I hated online classes, and I am a 23 year old completing a traditional in person program. 1/3 of my classes were online and I really don’t think its that great of an experience. I still don’t believe that online beats in-person, although I do understand that traditional in person programs are not an option for many. I really do think it cheapens the profession when basically anyone with a pulse and a bachelor’s degree can get into library school. I knew of someone with a 2.1 (seriously) in history that got into library school. I still can’t believe there are online only programs. (SJSU, TWU etc) what other profession has all online programs and no standardized exams? (licensing exams, boards, certifications etc) Just my two cents.

    • c says:

      I agree with many of the points you have made, but this is also where research comes into play. Not all library schools are created equal, ie Southern, ALA accreditation is only conditional, also, some programs require more such as taking the GRE etc. As students we are required to do our homework so to speak when deciding where to go. There are some really good online programs, really bad ones, really good brick and mortar programs, some not so good. The key is to do the research! Both while choosing a school, and trying to decide between candidates.

  27. Raul says:

    Sorry to somewhat hijack this thread, however, there seems to be a number of knowledgeable contributors to this thread. I am currently contemplating an MLIS degree and hoped that some kind soul could offer their two cents.

    This Fall, I will earn a B.A. in Film Theory & Criticism and would like to, at some point, work in film archival. That has been the plan all along. I figured I could earn a high GPA studying a subject I am terribly passionate about and use that as a stepping stone towards a career in film archival. I am Los Angeles based and plan to apply to UCLA, but I think that SJSU may be the more realistic choice, considering the ease of getting into the program.

    However, I am not sure if an MLIS is the right, next step. At this point, I am not sure if I should earn a Masters in Film Theory first, then a MLIS degree. Or perhaps an MFA may be a better option? I am also looking into a program at UCLA offered by the IS department called Moving Image Archival Studies.

    Any advice would be terribly appreciated!

    • me says:

      Hi Raul,
      It doesn’t matter as much whether you get an MFA or the MLIS (although if you do go the MLIS route make sure the program you decide on has a robust archival track). What is more important is that you become a Certified Archivist (http://www.certifiedarchivists.org/) after you graduate. Regardless, of your major you’re going to have to do plenty of studying on your own for the certification test. An MLIS program with a good archives track should help you with preparation.

  28. Kieran says:

    I too am currently getting my MLIS from the University of Illinois LEEP program, and let me tell you, it is not the online classes people are used to. We meet at a certain time, all of us and our professor, we have headsets for discussion, even breakout groups. We go to campus one weekend a semester, and we are also required to attend “Boot Camp”, a ten day intensive course in order to begin the program.

    That being said, I am also working full time as a youth services librarian.

    The MLIS is best in conjunction with experience in a library. I have classmates that are baristas and helicopter salesmen (and I love them) but you can’t beat the experience interacting with patrons and materials. The MLIS is meant to examine the theories behind the practices, and while people without one can certainly be great librarians, the academic side of librarianship will be the people developing the practices of the future. It’s all about balance. Practicality vs theory.

  29. Ren says:

    Just to put my two cents in, as someone one month away from graduating with their MLIS at a school offering both in-person and online degrees, I can say for MY school there are some instances where online students have some unfair advantages than on-campus students do, and on-campus students are very aggravated about it. It mostly has to do with the way the program is set up/the professors teaching the courses deciding how much effort they want to put into it. Our courses are “blended” so an on-campus session is recorded for online students to watch. Two classes I have taken had a final group project worth 40% of our overall grade, and on-campus students had to turn in and present their presentations a full two weeks before online students had their in-person visiting weekend. This meant the online students had two weeks to watch our presentations, listen to our question/answer portions, prepare for similar questions/answers, and probably change their projects if they felt they needed to.

    Another example that happens a lot is the “participation points” online students get through posting to discussion boards. While on-campus students are expected to do readings before class and take part in around hour-long discussions (small classes around 10-15 students mean everyone must speak multiple times), the online students only have to post a few sentences online to get full credit. My friend took an online class I was taking in person and was willing to show me how she only participated in 8 of the 12 discussions and got full credit, whereas in the same class I took in-person and contributed every week, I got 7 out of 10 points. In a class I’m currently taking we are also required to make small 5 minute presentations every two weeks in front of the class and for online students they are only “required” to do it if they “are able to record and upload a video”.

    I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with getting a degree through long distance and I fully understand why it’s done, but I am one of those people who moved states away to attend school – I work two part time jobs and also have an internship while in school full time, and witnessing this almost makes me wish I had stayed in my home state and do the degree online. Both versions of degrees have their advantages and disadvantages. To me, it only makes sense for a school offering both options to have the same standards of grading, especially when the classes are “blended”. Giving certain obvious advantages to one type of student make the school look unprofessional and hurts many students in the end.

  30. c says:

    I have had the opposite experience, wherein the on campus students are not given as much work to complete in comparison to the online students. Online students are often given more work, such as stricter instructions on the discussion board, as well as additional assignments. It sounds like you have had a bad experience with your school, but that doesn’t make the online degree any less valuable then the in person degree. I agree that it makes the school look unprofessional, but not all of us were able to move across state to attend school. Some have families and other obligations.