Shaquille O’Neal received his doctoral degree in education last week. It wasn’t an honorary award — he earned it from Barry University, a private Catholic institution in Florida. It’s an admirable achievement that required lots of hard work, both on campus and off — he took many courses through distance education, but also had presentations and other activities on campus, as in the photo provided by Barry (the other person in the photo is David M. Kopp, Chair of the Organizational Learning and Leadership and Human Resource Development Programs).
But I noticed an interesting thread in the Gawker story about Shaq’s graduation. The entertainer and former basketball star received a master’s degree from the University of Phoenix prior to getting his doctorate from Barry. The Gawker story only mentioned Shaquille O’Neal’s UoP degree in passing, but it brought out a lot of spirited comments, many of them highly critical of University of Phoenix degrees.
MicMutt started off the thread with this comment:
Does “a Master’s degree from University of Phoenix” even mean anything?
A bunch of sarcastic comments followed (“It means your check to the University of Phoenix cleared”, “I hope so, that’s where I received my MD. Surgery rotation was cake”, etc.). But there was a serious response, too:
Lots of companies (and government agencies) pay for their employees to return to school for MBAs and such, and a substantial number of those people end up at UoP. It’s one of the top destinations because a lot of the time the employee just needs those extra letters behind his/her name, and the curriculum isn’t really that different from any other program.
However, one UoP supporter fired back at MicMutt with this:
You know what, if I ran a business I would take a UofP MBA over a BC/Columbia MBA every day of the week. Usually the people taking online classes are doing so because they are already out in the workforce, not everyone had daddy paying their tuition.
Focus on Shaq’s UoP master’s degree highlight concern over UoP standards
From there the conversation turned into a bitter war about privilege, ability, standards, career opportunities, and whether or not UoP degrees are legit. Example:
You know what? I do run a business and, as MicMutt said, a UoP MBA counts for very little. Traditional public and private not-for-profit universities offer online programs, and there are only two reasons someone would choose UoP:
1. Couldn’t get accepted to a program with legitimate admissions criteria;
2. Not sophisticated enough to realize that UoP is among the most expensive choices and has among the worst reputations.
This is not the sort of person I am interested in hiring for anything other than low-level grunt work.
These comments are cruel and unfair to students who put in a lot of work to earn their degrees. However, they do reflect real problems with UoP standards (which are affected by its for-profit mission) and perception in the marketplace. I wrote about this issue six years ago on another blog, and the post attracted more than 100 comments from UoP supporters and critics.
My publishing company counts newer for-profit schools as well as nonprofit educational institutions among its customers, with our LinkedIn book being one of the top sellers for students from both types of schools. It really shouldn’t come as a surprise. Regardless of which school they attend, many grad students want to improve their career opportunities. It’s not just about getting a bigger paycheck, but also being able to network with other professionals and finding new job opportunities via LinkedIn’s huge jobs database.
Update: According to Essence, “this doctoral degree is [O’Neal’s] proudest accomplishment.”