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There has been renewed chatter online recently regarding online degrees versus brick-and-mortar degrees, specifically in library science. The discussion began with a post from the Annoyed Librarian, which generated a lot of comments and further discussion in the ALA Think Tank. In the past, I’ve written about this; Will Manley has written about this; and many others have, too. My post had so many contributors that I wrote a part 2. Will Manley’s post (which I cannot link to) resulted in an intense debate and was the genesis for my posts. Of course, MOOCs are a hot topic these days as well.

I know this issue generates heated discussion and often defensive responses. And in my opinion, it goes beyond the discourse about whether online degrees are as good as those acquired traditionally. The argument extends to whether it matters which school you get any degree from regardless of the way you get it. I’m not here to discuss either.

The bigger question is why? Why does this topic generate emotional debate? I would say that it has little to do with the merits of different educational platforms and more to do with people. Because people work hard to get an education however they can, wherever they can, based on where they live and how much they can afford and lots of other factors. Those people don’t want their efforts, and in many cases sacrifices, to be judged by the reputation and merits of their schools or programs. Those people want to be judged on their own reputations and merits. And they should be.

If a hiring manager is eliminating potential candidates for a job by looking at Alma maters, then that person is deluding themselves or is completely indoctrinated into the misconception that pedigree makes the person. The person makes the person. Why wouldn’t a supervisor want an employee who has worked full time while putting themselves through school online or at their local community college? Doesn’t that show initiative? And drive? And determination? Don’t you want those qualities in an employee? What am I missing? That’s not to say that the person I just described is any better (or worse) than the traditional student that attended an Ivy League school and excelled.

When it comes down to it, the only thing that matters is what you do with what you learn. The attributes that make someone a good hire do not have anything to do with where or how they got an education–often not even with regard to if they got a higher education. Those attributes come from within–from a personal desire to excel and contribute and understand and continually learn and perform to the best of one’s ability.

People don’t like to be judged on circumstances that are sometimes out of their control, like where they went to school or how they got their degrees or if they got their degrees. People want to be judged on their efforts and on their abilities to perform the tasks of a job–any job.

I value education. I understand that there are requirements and standards for certain positions. But it is pretentious and arrogant to believe that the source of the degree has more value than the person who got it.

My style often leads me to be neutral–to see both sides of an argument and ask questions rather than take a stand. On this issue, I take a firm stand on the side of common sense.

My MLS gives me the credentials to say that I’m a librarian. Take that for what it’s worth and no more. With or without it and whether it was earned online or in a classroom or in a generic state school or one that has top billing, it only means as much as I make of it.

Not the other way around.