With the approach of a post-pandemic economy on the horizon, lots of people are looking to take advantage of this moment of transition to secure employment and improve their careers. The question on everyone’s minds is how. Education is the typical go-to when it comes to developing a professional skill set, and with the pandemic restricting many industries to online services, it makes sense that online credentialing and skill-building have risen in popularity. Similarly, one might expect online degree programs to see an influx in enrollment. However, according to a CivicScience survey of more than 5,000 U.S. adults, this likely isn’t the case. 

When comparing answers from before and after the outbreak of COVID-19, inclinations towards online degrees have remained stagnant, if not slightly lower. People surveyed have become less likely to enroll into a full college degree program online and very few people see an online degree as a worthwhile investment.

With our work and social lives becoming increasingly online, why do we not see an equal rise in interest in online education? One possible angle to consider is the value of the college degree itself. When surveyed, more than two-thirds of people believe that having a college degree is not an important factor that leads to a successful career. 

Likewise, a greater number of people believe that where you go to college is also unimportant. While an online degree may be an affordable substitute to an acclaimed university, chances are that if you believe a college degree doesn’t matter, where you got that degree also doesn’t matter.

Here, there is a significant positive correlation between those who believe college degrees are not important factors and those who are more likely to disagree that an online degree is worthwhile. 

However, when looking at levels of educational attainment, there appears to be a slightly larger percentage of “yes” answers for those who have not completed high school and for those who have a Bachelor’s or associate degree. One theory that could explain this phenomenon is the disparity of economic skill levels. Typically, those who do not complete high school find themselves in jobs with less opportunity for upward mobility compared to jobs that require a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree. On the other hand, jobs that have higher requirements for educational attainment require specialized candidates to rely on their degrees. Those whose careers are either strongly restricted by their educational limits and those who rely on their degree in order to meet job requirements will likely place a higher value on the college degree itself. 

Comparing incomes, there exists few differences between those who said college degrees significantly impact success and those that don’t. Regardless of annual earnings, there seems to be an even share in the opinion on how college degrees helped provide those earnings.

With the upheaval the pandemic has created, many people do not see this time as an opportunity for online full degree programs, as a college degree is not seen as the sole driver for career success. Particularly now, when economic stimulus and other resources are helping stabilize families on both ends of the educational spectrum. 

So, in general, what do Americans believe leads to a successful career? According to those surveyed, you have a greater chance of excelling in a career by honing your core skills and networking than by receiving a college degree or attending a renowned school.