Raising the Question

How much does the reputation of the college or university where a person earns an online doctorate affect that degree’s value in securing a strong career path and a good salary? Conventional wisdom seems to tell us that reputation is important in virtually every area of human interaction. Let’s take a closer look at this question.

A Closer Look

Most experts in the dynamics and trends in higher education, as well as potential employers, admit that a college’s or university’s reputation affects their graduates’ career prospects. There is no final verdict on just how much the reputation of an institution impacts its graduates’ job prospects and earning potentials. However, correlations of varying degrees of strength can be drawn between institutional reputation and how an online doctoral degree is perceived by potential employers. The rest of this article will take a look at the overall importance of institutional reputation for an online doctorate as well as the varying degrees of importance institutional reputation possesses in different fields of online doctorates. Other considerations beyond reputation will also be discussed that will help potential online doctorate students make an informed and balanced decision about the importance of reputation in selecting an online doctoral degree program.

What’s in a Name?

When Shakespeare’s Juliet posed this question to Romeo in Romeo and Juliet she was surely making a tangential point about the priority of individual character over mere names and familial associations. However, in the context of institutional reputation, the question applies in a different but related manner. The name or reputation of a given college or university reveals some important characteristics of that institution and how that college or university is perceived by the broader academic world as well as potential employers.

Not Merely a Matter of Perception

Reputation has a great deal to do with perception. However, perception is often rooted in objective and discernible traits that have been stable over a period of time. This is often the case for institutions of higher learning. In important ways, an institution’s reputation may reveal positive and desirable qualities about a college or university and its online doctorates. Or, a poor reputation may raise red flags about a college and its online doctorates whose avoidance could save trouble down the road. In general, a college’s or university’s reputation will often be the first indication of whether or not an institution of higher learning has achieved and maintained a longstanding record of academic quality and stability.

A good or high reputation indicates that an institution as a whole has achieved and maintained standards of excellence across its academic programs over an extended period of time. This means that an institution of high reputation has assured that its degrees, whether undergraduate, graduate, or doctoral-level, meet or exceed accredited standards of academic integrity, thoroughness, and rigor. To achieve this goal would have required excellent and stable faculty over an extended period as well because great teaching needs great teachers.

A poor reputation, on the contrary, would indicate that a college or university has been commonly perceived to have failed to measure up to adequate standards of academic excellence. Another possibility is that a college or university has not been in existence long enough to establish a clear reputation. In such cases, students looking for a quality online doctorate will need to base their decisions on other factors, which will be discussed a little later.

Great education also needs great students. This means that along with excellent programs at all levels of education and outstanding faculty, institutional reputation flows out of the interaction between faculty themselves, faculty and students, and between students. All these components would likely affect online doctoral studies as well. A key ingredient for a great reputation is for students after graduating to achieve success in their careers and vocations. Because institutional reputation is hard-earned, universities and colleges will do their best to maintain their standing. Online doctorates share in the overall reputation of an institution and very likely benefit from the high standards that made their institutions successful in the first place.

Does Reputation Factor More in Certain Fields?

A college’s or university’s reputation clearly factors into how degrees, including online doctorates from that institution, are evaluated in terms of both quality and marketability. However, there is a question of the extent to which reputation factors in various disciplines. According to some studies, institutional reputation is much more important in online research doctorates than in doctorates having a professional focus and application.

To give some practical examples: an online Ph.D. in English literature will likely depend more upon institutional reputation, particularly with respect to career and job opportunities, than, for example, an online Doctor of Business Administration. Several possible reasons lay behind this. However, there are a couple of key reasons why this might be the case. The first is that online research doctorates are primarily suited to training future academics. Because there are more holders of a Ph.D. than academic positions. Graduates from prestigious Ph.D. programs will be in the prime position to fill up open academic positions in top programs and then overflow into less prestigious degree programs.

Another reason for the bias towards Ph.D. graduates from institutions with a high reputation is likely because of the presumed excellent training coupled with the difficulty of non-experts to accurately evaluate the ability and potential of the Ph.D.’s research. Where the success of an engineer’s or dentist’s work will be fairly obvious to non-experts in many cases, the originality and clarity of a dissertation or thesis on an abstract philosophical topic, for example, will not be so widely accessible. In such a situation institutional reputation serves a kind of clearing-house for candidates seeking a limited number of research positions.

There are surely more reasons, but a third reason why institutional reputation in research degrees is more important in online doctorates, as well as onsite doctorates than in practice-based doctorates, is because there are more jobs in the professional fields than in academic areas. Higher need and demand for experts in the various professions translates into more jobs. Lower need and demand for researchers means fewer positions. This makes getting a job in a research position more difficult than a professional position. Because of these factors, institutional reputation seems to be more important for research online doctorates programs than practice-based and professional online doctorates.

Don’t Let Institutional Reputation Become the Only Factor

While the reputation of the school where one earns their online doctorate is important, and in some fields is very important, reputation should not become the sole focus or criterion for choosing an online doctorate. Other areas deserve consideration beyond reputation. Here are a few considerations beyond institutional reputation that should be taken into account when selecting on online doctorate:

  • Accreditation
  • Specializations
  • Faculty
  • Cost
  • Competition

Accreditation

Clearly, a college or university with an outstanding reputation will have achieved necessary accreditation as an institution for its online doctorates and for its, where needed, specialized online doctoral programs. When considering online doctorates offered by colleges or universities of less prestige, it is very important to determine if a school has received accreditation. This will ensure that the school and online program you are looking into has demonstrated a standard of excellence that is recognized by the academic and employment communities. If a program is accredited, even if not at an institution with a high reputation, there is a basic assurance that money spent in an online doctorate will be toward a degree of value that can serve as a way to advance or change one’s career.

Specializations

Do not become overly attached to reputation and prestige to the detriment of other values that may be present in an online doctorate offered by a college or university whose reputation is not as high as others. A very important consideration concerns an online doctorate’s areas of study. Some programs may not be available through a school with a high reputation which are offered at other schools. A further consideration, which will be important for doctoral students and may turn out to be the deciding factor in choosing one school’s program over another’s, is that online program’s specializations. Doctoral work is highly focused, and certain online doctorates will have just the right specialization to match your interests and career goals. If an online doctorate from a college or university with a slightly lower standing offers the specialization that fits your needs, it likely may be the online doctorate for you.

Faculty

Finding the right programs and specializations can sway one away from a top tier online doctorate. Who the faculty members of an online doctoral program are should be a central aspect of the process of making a decision about what online doctoral program a person will pursue. The opportunity to receive instruction from and collaborate with a faculty member whose work you know and appreciate can be immeasurably more valuable in the process of learning your profession than the indirect prestige that comes from graduating from an institution with a high reputation.

Cost

An online doctorate from a college or university with an outstanding reputation almost always comes with a higher price tag. If your future is not in academia, you may be surprised at how school reputation does not predict actual post-graduation earning. According to Payscale.com professional and practice-oriented degrees from institutions that are not commonly considered to have outstanding reputations, actually, produce graduates with higher earning than those who have graduated from prestigious colleges and universities.

Competition

A final aspect to consider when thinking of what online doctorates to apply to is competition. In addition to reputation not always being a predictor of high earnings along with the likely higher cost of earning an online doctorate at a college or university with a high reputation, is that admissions requirements, as well as competition, are higher than they are for other online doctoral programs. The hopeful online doctoral student should weigh these considerations in deciding what online doctorates to apply for and, once accepted, which to enroll in.

Wisdom Is in Finding a Balance

In all this, the path of wisdom is found by achieving a balance between field of study, cost, faculty, specializations, and competition. Different students will prioritize the costs and benefits of each factor in a unique and personal way. There is no single “right” formula for choosing an online doctoral degree program. However, being aware of the importance of a college’s or university’s reputation and how reputation’s importance varies in different fields, is central for making the best of the time and money invested in earning an online doctorate. Not all institutions are equal and not all programs, even in the same area of study, will be identical. The key is to discover the program best suited to you in a harmonious balance of pros and cons.

Reputation: Summing Up

We have discovered how institutional reputation is important when choosing an online doctorate. However, as we have also seen, the importance and impact of a college’s or university’s reputation will vary widely, depending upon whether one is hoping to enter a career in research and college-level teaching or is, rather, disposed to employment in a profession. On the one hand, a doctorate from an institution with high standing is very important in research and teaching careers. On the other hand, not so much institutional reputation, but, rather, manifest competency is most important for practice and profession-oriented online doctorates.