There’s a reason why there are laws against basing hiring decisions on factors like age, religion, race, gender, and sexual orientation: if there were no such laws, many hiring managers would use those factors all the time. Hiring for full-time employment is an exercise in prejudice—some of it inexcusable, and some of it necessary.

Think about it: job applicants submit their resumes, which answer the essential questions about qualifications. Hiring managers then must rely on incredibly short interviews to make long-term decisions. They use certain prejudices (pre-judging criteria) to narrow down the field. They read into an applicant’s body language to tell them if he’s dishonest. They look at her clothes to see if she fits in with the corporate culture. More often than they admit, people do make hiring decisions based on age, gender, or race. That’s an outrage, and it needs to stop because it’s based on faulty stereotypes, not on fact.

Let’s add one more criterion to the list of ridiculous excuses for not hiring someone: online education. Is prejudice against online degrees as outrageous as racism, sexism, ageism, or homophobia? No. But it’s just as stupid.

As this article from employmentblawg.com aptly points out, a vault.com survey in 2008 showed that 4 out of every 5 hiring professionals look more favorably on online education than they did 5 years ago, but only 1 in 5 has actually hired someone with strictly an online degree. That’s because about half of them give preference to graduates of brick-and-mortar universities. That’s their choice, but it’s a dumb choice.

A 2009 survey showed that those views were steadily (but way too slowly) warming up to the idea of online education, but the practice of hiring online graduates still has lots of ground to cover.

When you hear the reasoning behind it, you might experience slight hemorrhaging in your brain. One hiring professional interviewed for the employmentblawg.com article said, “I don’t think online degrees reflect a serious commitment to education on the part of the degree-holder.”

Insanity! This is exactly the bias that old-school, closed-minded bureaucrats have always shown toward things they don’t understand. Getting an online education is hard work, often done by parents, military veterans, and full-time workers. You won’t find better commitment. To discriminate against online degrees on that basis goes against basic common sense. It also goes against the facts.

A 12-year government study on education best practices (PDF) showed that online courses proved markedly better performance results than face-to-face education. Here’s the juiciest excerpt:

Students who took all or part of their class online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction.

And have hiring professionals really been to college? Without making sweeping generalizations, there are a lot of college grads who showed only the slightest commitment to their studies. You can graduate with a track record for skipping class, plagiarizing papers, cheating on tests, and drinking the night away. Not everybody does it, but some people do. Anyone who has ever visited a college campus knows that not everyone there is all that serious about their education.

The same can be said for some people who get their degrees online, but far fewer. Nobody enrolls in an online program because it’s the thing to do, their parents pressured them into it, or because it’s a good online party school. People who get their degrees online do it because they want to get a better education, and they need it to fit into a lifestyle loaded with commitment.

And here’s a positive prejudice hiring officials might want to consider in an age where many employees conduct their work on computers: it might help to have someone who knows how to be productive on a computer. Hello!

A couple decades ago, computers had almost no presence in the work place. Many HR officials balked at the introduction of PCs into the office, because they were viewed as time wasters—and to some extent they were right! A recent survey showed that 61% of employees spend up to an hour a day using office technology for personal use. And this survey showed that 1 in 4 employees either know someone who uses work computers for sexually explicit activity or they’ve done it themselves.

Let’s face it: a lot of people use computers to screw off at work—wouldn’t you rather have employees who have grown accustomed to using their computers for work? Someone with an online degree has the proven ability to be productive on the computer and online. For them, the Internet is a tool, not a distraction. Isn’t that who you want in the workplace?

Today’s workplace and society at large is becoming more wired by the minute. Shunning people with online educations is just plain backward. Welcome to the 21st century, hiring professionals. Please join us.