What Is the Definition of a Traditional College Degree?

The definition of a traditional college degree has evolved as the needs of students have changed. Read on to learn about the traditional meaning of this phrase and how it has changed in recent years.

Definition of a Traditional College Degree

Originally, a traditional college degree meant a degree earned in a traditional academic field through full-time attendance at a college or university. Now, the definition sometimes includes part-time, on-campus college study. However, a traditional college degree does not currently include online degree programs.

In comparison, non-traditional college degree programs may include full-time, on-campus study for self-designed academic majors, or those programs that evaluate portfolios for graduation rather than traditional grades. In addition, correspondence or online degree programs also typically fall outside the category of traditional college degrees.

Important Facts About Traditional College Degrees

Degree Levels Associate's, bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees available
Prerequisites Varies, depending upon intended program of enrollment; a high school diploma, or equivalent, is typically required for enrollment in an associate's or bachelor's degree program
Concentrations Creative writing, chemistry, biology, business administration, art history, healthcare studies, integrated science, music, religious studies, sociology
Possible Careers Engineer, teacher, police officer, fashion designer, nuclear technician, art director, broadcast news analyst, budget analyst, cost estimator, set and exhibit designer

Educational Institutions and Other Employers Prefer a Traditional College Degree

A thorough literature review done by researchers Norina L. Columbaro and Catherine H. Monaghan, Ph.D., at Cleveland State University in 2009 found that people responsible for hiring professors believe that a traditional college degree is better than one earned through distance learning; fewer than 10% showed no preference. While employers in other industries were slightly more accepting, the bias toward traditional college degrees is still profound. Even mixed or hybrid degree programs were viewed with suspicion.

Preference For a Traditional College Degree Based on Definition

The researchers noted that employers, whose definition of a traditional college degree is one that requires regular classroom attendance on campus, associated traditional degree programs with the following attributes:

  • Ability to do rigorous work
  • Commitment
  • Academic honesty
  • Ability to work and learn face-to-face with others

Employers also associated traditional college degrees with schools that have achieved accreditation, evidence of their quality. Unaccredited schools and diploma mills, which often offer online degrees, have marred the reputation of non-traditional programs.

Improving the Perception of Non-Traditional College Degrees

Employers who personally know individuals with online or non-traditional college degrees are less biased against non-traditional college degrees. In-house employees who earn non-traditional degrees to advance within their companies find 62% acceptance, according to one of the surveys reviewed. The following may improve the acceptance of non-traditional college degrees:

  • Elimination of diploma and degree mills
  • Accredited and reputable colleges and universities increasingly offering some of their degree programs in distance learning formats
  • The self-discipline, time management and similar skills required to succeed in an online degree program

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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