The Value of a Non-Traditional Degree


The results of the first large survey on the value of non-traditional degrees were published by the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. This survey of thousands of students with degrees from both accredited and unaccredited schools was designed to answer the following questions, among others:

  • Do holders of non-traditional degrees have any particular problems in getting better jobs, or in admission to traditional graduate schools?

  • Are holders of non-traditional degrees happy with their degrees?

  • Is there any significant difference between holders of accredited, and unaccredited non-traditional degrees?


In a survey of top personnel officers at 81 large corporations, the overwhelming majority felt that, yes, education was important, and that a non-traditional degree was just as useful as one from a traditional school with "a strong reputation." As the report said, these findings "run counter to some popular beliefs" - yet the "survey data strongly suggest that employers... as a group are not overly concerned with institutional reputation, and that external degree holders should not find themselves denied opportunities in employment settings because of the nature of their degrees."

Commencement Ceremony 2003


Two of the crucial issues studied here were the importance of accreditation, and how well-prepared non-traditional degree holders were to undertake higher degree programs.

Approximately one-fifth of people who earned a non-traditional bachelors degree decided to go on to a higher (masters or doctorate) degree. Of these, 97 per cent were admitted by the traditional graduate school of their choice. Out of every 100 successful applicants, only three reported some problems because of the lack of accreditation of their degree; another three per cent reported some problems because of having a non-traditional transcript, or because of having gotten credit for life experience. But 94% experienced no problems in graduate school admission because of having a non-traditional and/or unaccredited degree.

In the matter of how well the non-traditional degree prepared students for further work in their field, here are the students' own evaluations:

Compared with a traditional degree, the non-traditional degree was:

  Better The Same Worse
In subject content 44% 49% 7%
In study skills 48% 43% 9%
In overall performance 57% 42% 1%

In other words, 99% of the holders of non-traditional degrees felt that their degree was as good as, or better than, a traditional degree.


From this very extensive survey, it seems apparent that an unaccredited non-traditional degree is an extremely useful and valuable commodity, whether for employment, job advancement, or further education pursuits. When surveyed, an average of two years after completing their non-traditional degree, more than three-fourths of the people felt a significant increase in their status and respect had resulted, and a vast majority had already gotten either a better job, or a significant promotion or pay raise in their old job.

(Source: Sosdian, Carol P. and Laure M. Sharp, The External Degree as Credential: Graduates' Experiences in Employment and Further Study. Washington, D.C., US Department of Health, Education and Welfare, 1978.)


Honolulu University