In a recent survey conducted by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), it was revealed that employers are evenly split on the value of online and in-person degrees. This finding indicates a significant shift in the perception of online education in the professional world.

However, the survey also highlights a preference for in-person programmes, particularly in terms of the perceived leadership and communication skills of graduates.

Employer Preferences: In-Person vs Online Degrees

The GMAC Corporate Recruiters Survey, which offers annual insights into hiring trends and skill demands, surveyed leading global firms, including many from the Fortune 500. The survey found that 54% of employers regard graduates of online and in-person programmes as equally valuable. Despite this, a preference for in-person programmes is evident, with employers worldwide less likely to view graduates of online and in-person programmes equally compared to the previous year.

Leadership and Communication Skills

A notable 66% of employers reported that talent from in-person programmes possess stronger leadership, communication, and technical skills than their online counterparts. This sentiment aligns with the increase in universities and schools offering hybrid or online alternatives to traditional in-person teaching, a trend accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Nalisha Patel, Europe Regional Director at GMAC, comments on this trend: “As time moves 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.” Patel adds, “It’s not that a vast majority of employers see online programmes as a worse education experience for graduates, but there is a perception of in-person candidates having stronger business acumen.”

Regional Differences in Employer Attitudes

The survey also reveals significant regional differences in employer attitudes. In Asia, employers in Central or South Asia (90%) and East and Southeast Asia (71%) believe that online and in-person degrees hold equal value. However, they still place a higher value on the leadership, communication, and technical skills of in-person graduates. In contrast, only 27% of U.S. employers value both types of degrees equally, a 2% decrease from the previous year. Interestingly, U.S. employers are less convinced about the superior technical skills of in-person graduates compared to their online counterparts.

Consulting firms share a similar perspective with U.S. employers, with only 32% viewing online and in-person degrees equally. Less than half of these firms believe that in-person graduates bring more technical skills to their work than online graduates.

Essential Skills for Graduates

The GMAC report also underscores the importance of certain skills for graduates. Communication, data analysis, and strategy expertise are identified as crucial, with an expectation that these skills will become even more significant in the future. The report also highlights the growing importance of multilingualism, active listening, and cross-cultural competence over the next five years.

This year’s Corporate Recruiters Survey, which provides valuable data and insights for graduate business schools and employers, is based on over 1,000 surveys conducted between January and March 2023, encompassing 34 nationalities. The survey presents an opportunity for business schools and graduates to better communicate their transferable skills to employers and address concerns regarding online programmes.

Founded in 1953, GMAC is a non-profit organisation representing global graduate business schools. For over two decades, The Corporate Recruiters Survey has been a critical source of data and insights in the field of graduate business education.