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JENKINS: Beware of too much 'computer college'

Photo by Ginny Sampson 

Photo by Ginny Sampson 

As college students across Georgia head back to campus — or prepare to enroll for the first time — many will find themselves lured by the siren’s call of “easy,” “convenient” online classes:

“Go to class when you want!”

“Set your own schedule!”

“Get a degree in your pajamas!”

The problem is that online classes usually aren’t easier. Yes, you can “attend” on your own schedule, and you might not even have to leave your room. But online classes, by their very nature, require an unusual degree of self-discipline, not to mention considerable technological know-how.

Even more problematic may be the fact that, although many institutions push online classes shamelessly, research shows that employers are considerably less enthusiastic about them.

A recent survey of over 700 hiring managers nationwide found that they have a generally favorable impression of all types of higher education institutions: research universities, regional universities, liberal arts colleges, even community and technical colleges.

But not online schools. Only those got the thumbs-down.

True, taking a few online courses is different from getting an entire degree online. But the survey results clearly suggest that employers don’t place much value on “computer college.” Perhaps that reflects their experience with students who have completed a significant proportion of their coursework online.

In that regard, a conversation I had recently with a close friend might be instructive.

As a partner in a large, international professional services firm, my friend’s client list includes some of the most recognizable brands in the world. In addition, he’s in charge of recruiting for his regional office, coordinating regularly with human resources staff from corporate headquarters and frequently interacting with his counterparts at other firms.

As he and I were talking the other day about the growing online education trend, he made the statement that his company would never hire someone who went to school online. I was a bit surprised that he would take such a hard line, so I asked him to expand on that pronouncement.

“The biggest problem with most of our new hires,” he explained, “is that they already think everything can be done electronically. They’re always on their computers and handheld devices, emailing or texting clients and colleagues. I’m constantly having to remind them that our business is based on personal relationships. I literally have to tell them to get out from behind their computers and go talk to people. That concept is largely foreign to them.”

When pressed, he admitted that a few online classes wouldn’t necessarily be a deal-breaker. But he insisted he wouldn’t hire an applicant who had taken too many courses online.

“I’m sure online classes are fine for teaching certain concepts,” he said. “But that’s not really what we’re looking for. We can teach the concepts ourselves. What we really value in a college education is the interpersonal skills that students develop. Online classes just don’t teach those.”

Rob Jenkins is a local freelance writer and the author of “Family Man: The Art of Surviving Domestic Tranquility,” available at Books for Less in Buford and on Amazon. Email Rob at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com or visit familymanthebook.com.