First Advisor

Karen Haley

Date of Publication

Spring 6-6-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Educational Leadership: Postsecondary Education


Educational Leadership and Policy




Distance education -- Public opinion, Accounting firms -- Personnel management, Employee selection, Employees -- Recruiting



Physical Description

1 online resource (iv, 157 pages)


The latest research shows over 2.8 million higher education students or one-in-seven are enrolled in fully online programs. In fields such as accounting, students are able to complete their degree, pass a standardized exam, and enter the workforce with little to no work experience. Accounting firm human resources managers are primarily responsible for the recruitment and selection of candidates. Prior studies conducted show that these hiring gatekeepers prefer candidates with earned degrees in a traditional classroom environment when holding constant for all other factors. While many students invest in online degrees as an ideal pathway to employment, career advancement, and increased earnings, the perception of their degree by hiring gatekeepers may limit these aspirations. Existing research is limited in descriptive analysis as to why these perceptions are held and what can be done to change them.

The purpose of this qualitative study was to investigate the perception of the online degree by accounting hiring gatekeepers of mid-size firms in the northwestern U.S. and their recommendations for changes to online programs. Findings support prior research with a disinclination by hiring gatekeepers for candidates with earned online degrees and identified several reasons including a diminished view of interpersonal skills, ability to work as part of a team, faculty interaction and professional mentorship, and negative institutional perceptions. Additionally, gatekeepers recommended changes to online programs that included a focus on technical skills, soft skills, required internships, increasing in-person or hybrid structures, and revising institutional marketing strategies.


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