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Letter to the Editor: The Value of Nontraditional, Remote Education: Response to Behrend (2024)

David W. Bracken & Richard A. Mendelson

Letter to the Editor

Reminder: All TIP submissions, including Letters to the Editor, are peer reviewed before acceptance for publication. All accepted submissions are subject to editor revisions for clarity, formatting, length, and adherence to TIP policies, while maintaining the spirit of the original submission. Opinions expressed are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology or TIP unless so stated.


The Value of Nontraditional, Remote Education: Response to Behrend (2024)

David W. Bracken & Richard A. Mendelson
Keiser University, I-O Psychology

Thank you, President Behrend, for raising an important question regarding I-O psychology graduate programs, and for asking for comment (Behrend, 2024). As faculty at a remote program, we would like to offer a somewhat unique perspective. 

In fact, we (NCSU vs. Keiser) debated this very topic at the 2019 SIOP Conference, “Traditional vs. Online I-O Graduate Programs: Can They Coexist?” moderated by Milt Hakel (Bracken et al., 2019), where the consensus was that they can, indeed, coexist. The traditional brick and mortar program typically serves the applicant transitioning from undergrad to grad school, probably in their early 20s who likely has little applied work experience. Conversely, the average applicant in our remote program is around 40 years old and is almost always currently employed with many years of experience. Remote programs are more likely to have veterans transitioning to a second career with varied backgrounds that are of value to employers (Fain, 2021) and some transitioning through other major life events. Importantly, within this student cadre we have many professionals whose plan is to leverage their newly gained competencies in their current position and/or with their current employer, a kind of infiltration of I-O perspectives using embedded experts often in senior positions. Some get a promotion upon conferral of their degree.

Remote universities1 typically enroll much more diverse student bodies than the typical traditional program (Hamilton, 2023). But that is only one aspect of DEI. Addressing inclusivity, remote programs serve a population that has limited flexibility to relocate to a campus due to employment, spousal/partner mobility, or even family demands (e.g., elder care, children). These are qualities that we would expect to be valued by an organization such as SIOP that places so much emphasis on DEI initiatives (Hamilton, 2023). We challenge other programs to state how aggressively they are promoting DEI in their admissions.

As for the consumer, we believe that all I-O programs should use the SIOP Guidelines (SIOP, 2016) to design their curriculum. But no program can address all the SIOP competencies. Some programs triage the competencies with the assumption that graduates will serve in an applied setting as opposed to academia (though some do go on to teach in community colleges and at the undergraduate level). In another recent TIP article (Kay & Sijan, 2024), Sophie asks why students are learning sophisticated research methods/tools that may exceed the utility in a business setting where more basic techniques will suffice. This practitioner (DB) can confirm that elegant analyses are lost without an understanding of the audience and the ability to deliver the message effectively, skills that are not in our competency models.

Our opinion is that many traditional programs are designed to train academics, which begs the question of who our consumer actually is; that is, universities seeking the next generation of prolific academics or corporations (including consulting firms) seeking qualified and capable individuals for roles in their organizations in which they will “do the work” of I-O as opposed to propelling the research of the field forward through membership in The Academy.

Many remote programs are not for profit, but we wonder if they are viewed through the same lens as the “predatory” programs you (and we) denounce. Better efforts must be made to separate the views of “for profit” institutions from those of “remote” institutions. Remote programs are a community of learners, admittedly in a different way than the traditional program, relying more on technology and social media. But remote programs with full-time faculty can succeed, as supported by prior research (Roman et al., 2018), where remote programs scored well in areas such as engagement and relationships with faculty.

Pappas (2023) provided an overview of the recent SIOP initiatives to promote diversity in our ranks, pointing to the creation of conferences, networking, and mentorships directed toward underrepresented populations. Enrica Ruggs is quoted in this article, offering, “It’s important to build programs that provide the structural change and to sustain them… If we want to see increased diversity, we really have to put some teeth to it.” We would propose that remote programs provide exactly that type of solution—one that is structural, sustainable, and accessible.

We would hope that your overview of ways we can deliver the training that our students “deserve” can be broad enough to include solutions such as those remote programs can deliver. 


[1] Editor’s note: “Remote programs” are not synonymous with “remote universities.” Many remote programs are housed within “traditional” departments/universities.


Behrend, T. (2024). President’s column. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 61(3).

Bracken, D., Fleenor, J., Mendelson, R. A., Veech, A., Travis, J., Patel, R. (2019, April). Traditional vs. online IO graduate programs: Can they coexist? [Hakel, Milton (moderator) debate]. Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) 34th annual conference, Washington DC. 

Fain, P. (2021, August 20). Military students and online colleges. Veterans Education Project. https://veteranseducationproject.org/2021/08/20/military-students-online-colleges/ #:~:text=We%20know%20that%20veterans%20and,the%20most%20recent%20federal%20data

Hamilton, I. (2023, May 24). By the numbers: The rise of online learning in the U.S. Forbes Advisor. https://www.forbes.com/advisor/education/online-colleges/online-learning-stats/

Kay, S, & Sijan, M. A. I. (2024). The disconnect between science and practice: concerns of graduate students. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 61(3). https://www.siop.org/Research-Publications/Items-of-Interest/ArtMID/19366/ArticleID/8100/preview/true/The-Disconnect-Between-Science-and-Practice-Concerns-of-Graduate-Students

Pappas, S. (2023). Psychologists of color find opportunities in I/O psychology. Monitor in Psychology, 54(7).

Roman, J. R., Barnett, C. N., & Eatough, E. M. (2018). I-O graduate programs rankings based on student perceptions. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist55(4). https://www.siop.org/Research-Publications/TIP/TIP-Back-Issues/2018/April/ArtMID/20647/ArticleID/1394/I-O-Graduate-Programs-Rankings-Based-on-Student-Perceptions

Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Inc. (2016). Guidelines for education and training in industrial-organizational psychology. Author.

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