Graduates, employers and the academy : perceptions of the quality and utility of external degrees over twenty five years
Puffer, Glenn Robert
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In 1975 the Bureau of Social Science Research (BSSR) commissioned a study to examine the education- and work-related experiences of graduates from external degree programs to gather information "on how well such degrees served their holders, especially with respect to their usefulness in the world of work and the extent to which they provide access to higher-level programs." The study findings published in 1978 revealed that many of the perceptions of the "quality and validity" of external degrees held by graduates, employers, and educators in 1976-77 are similar to those reported in contemporary educational and professional literature. The 1978 BSSR report found 54,000 students enrolled in 134 public 2-year and 4- year institutions offering 244 undergraduate external degree programs meeting their study criteria. In 1998 the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported for similar criteria approximately 1.1 million students enrolled in over 500 institutions offering 1,190 undergraduate distance degree programs. An analysis of the literature published during the intervening years was conducted to identify and track changes in the perceptions of graduates, employers and educators (the academy). The literature reviewed was selected using search terms similar to those employed in the BSSR study. The period 1979-2003 was chosen for convenience and to provide coverage of the literature from the date of publication of the BSSR report to the present. Dissertation abstracts and online databases of scholarly and professional journals were searched for articles for review. The results of the analysis of the body of 312 studies and articles identified for the period are reported in graphic and narrative form. The analysis of the literature revealed that the perceptions of graduates and employers have changed little over 25 years. Graduates continue to enroll for personal achievement and for access to employment and higher education, and report a high degree of satisfaction with their educational experience. Employers accept external degrees, but favor degrees offered by traditional institutions over those offered by forprofit providers. The Academy remains polarized, with "traditional" faculty distrustful of credentials earned through nontradtional study and faculty proponents of distance education equally strong in support.