Can One Online Course Help Your Career?

After earning two degrees, Sheneka DeBerry still felt stuck in her career. She worked at Western Governors University in a support role as a faculty mentor. But with two young children, ages three and five, she was finding it hard to make ends meet and even had to deliver newspapers in the early hours of the morning for the extra cash.

DeBerry sorely wanted to move up the ladder but lacked an understanding about the fundamentals of business administration and management. She had enrolled in online classes to give her the skills to make a shift but with little success. DeBerry says she often felt isolated in long distance courses and gave up on them as a result. “I had taken online courses before and dropped out of them because I felt disconnected to the content and to other students,” she says.

Then, in 2015, she signed up for Harvard Business School’s program of three online courses in business fundamentals called CORe for Credential of Readiness. The trio of courses–Economics for Managers, Business Analytics, and Financial Accounting–has now been taken by more than 22,000 students since its launch by HBS five and one-half years ago. It can be taken in as little as eight weeks or as long as 17 week and requires eight to 20 hours of coursework and study per week.


Sheneka DeBerry says Harvard’s online CORe program changed the trajectory of her career

The experience changed her life and the trajectory of her career. Within months of completing the program, she was promoted at Western Governors University with what she calls a “considerable increase in my compensation.” Then, in 2016, DeBerry was accepted into Johns Hopkins University doctoral program. “I would never have dreamt that I was smart enough or good enough to be a student at one of the top universities in the county,” she says. “HBX helped me to realize my potential and equipped me with the knowledge to complete doctoral coursework.”

Last year, DeBerry, now 41, was recruited to turnaround a campus at a career technical college. “Not only did my earnings increase once again, the knowledge I gained at HBX played a significant role in my success managing campus operations. I understood how to read P & L statements and how to read and interpret data that influenced my strategic plans for the campus.”

It now turns out her experience with a non-degree, online program from Harvard Business School wasn’t a fluke. Today, the school released a study by City Square Associates that demonstrates the value of the Harvard brand as much as it does the value of the education. Bottom line: The career and personal benefits reported by students mirror and, in some cases, exceed those commonly reported for far more expensive and time-consuming degree programs.


One in four of the respondents said they have received a promotion or a title change as a result of the HBX course they completed (today the school rebranded its online learning initiative to Harvard Business School Online from HBX). More than half said it led to an increased scope of work, and even more surprising, one-third said they were able to transition into a new field. No less important, one in two respondents said they have received increased attention from recruiters (see Harvard’s infographic on the benefits here). Those are objectives commonly sought by applicants to most MBA, specialty business master’s and non-degree executive education programs.

Other core results:

• 96% of students said the online course they took led to personal betterment

• 91% said it improved their professional life

• 90% believe it made them a more confident leader

• 90% said it increased their knowledge of business terminology

• 93% believe it bolstered their resume

The highly positive findings surprised even HBS officials. “It’s understandable that an MBA would give people the opportunity to make a big pivot in their careers, but I never would have expected that students in a non-credit, non-degree course or program would have those kinds of outcomes,” adds Mullane. “What we are doing has had impact.”


Other business school deans see the far-reaching potential of what Harvard is reporting. “The HBS results are far advanced from the canary in the coal mine,” says Edward ‘Ted’ Snyder, dean of Yale University’s School of Management. “A major shift is underway. Advancements in on-line learning in combination with the now proven model of relatively small cohorts of on-line students paying premium prices changes the landscape.

“Lower-tier schools that haven’t established currency with their students and alumni are vulnerable,” believe Snyder. “Students will ask, ‘why not get a valuable credential from a top school?’ And this has huge implications for elite schools as well. The scramble among the top-tier schools to compete with high-quality on-line programs is now underway.”

For many who can’t spend either the money or time in a full-time business program, the online courses could very well be the next best thing. “We tend to get a sense that something can’t be transformational if it’s not a two-year residential program,” says Mullane. “But transformation is really in the eye of the beholder and we need to be cognizant of the fact that the way we think about it is not the way others will think about it. In the main, people say that it has changed their careers and lives.

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