In 2015, the Babson Survey Research Group reported that they found a 3.9% growth of higher education students opting to take at least one online/distance education course. Positive news indeed for advocates of online courses. But, an increase of students also means an increase of establishments/companies setting up online courses at graduate and post-graduate level.
If you have decided that long distance learning better suits your needs, then the prospect of selecting the right online school for you can be pretty daunting. To make matters worse, there are inevitably some unscrupulous companies setting up online schools for the sole purpose of making money. Students signed up to such programs will often find themselves thousands of dollars in debt and in possession of a degree certificate unrecognized by anybody. So how do you determine the good from the bad? Below are three easy steps to ensuring that you can find yourself a reputable school.
1. Know the Warning Signs When Doing Your Research
In recent years many fraudulent ‘diploma mills’ have appeared offering all sorts of enticing opportunities to ensure that people enroll and part with their money. Sadly, the old adage ‘ If it’s too good to be true, then it’s not true,’ generally always applies in these circumstances. One such example, is the numerous stories of students who have handed over their tuition, only to find that the entire school (website) had vanished with not so much as a contact address.
One particular field that is suffering heavily from this kind of fraud is the nursing profession. The doctorate in nursing practice or DNP is a hugely desirable qualification, yet every year, many prospective students are seeking out a DNP online course only to find they have been scammed. There are many common warning signs to help recognize these types of scams that include:
- Admissions are open
- Degrees are sometimes ‘pay as you go’
- An overabundance of ads and pop-ups on the school’s website
- Contact addresses are often linked to PO box numbers
- The website lacks any accrediting agencies or has an overly long list of accrediting agencies
- Claims to be able to ‘fast track’ you through a program in a matter of months
2. Contact Regional Accreditation Agencies
Never accept a place at an online school that offers no clue as to where its accreditation comes from. Accreditation is only awarded to schools that have met certain standards. In the United States there are six main regional accreditation services:
- Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
- North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
- Western Association of Schools & Colleges
But bear in mind that there are other accreditation agencies for more vocational qualifications. So let’s walk through it using our previous example. You decide you want to get your Doctor of Nursing Practice via an online course. After much research you find the perfect course for you that is ran through Bradley University, Illinois (a well established institute – so far, so good).
You read through the course information and discover that the course is accredited by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. If you are aware of the agency, then this may be enough information for you. However, if you are in any doubt at all (and credentials are not always as prominent as this) then contact the agency to confirm that the course you are thinking about applying to is actually accredited by them.
At the end of the day, a for-profit unaccredited online course is likely to make all sorts of promises until you part with your tuition. They will probably be contacting you non-stop if they have any inclination you might pay up. Be prepared! Don’t simply accept their empty email promises. Ask for contact numbers and talk to someone in real time, Skype if you can.
If the course is just a scam they may struggle with more challenging questions in a one to one situation. Ask about the type of student support they have in place. Ask for information about the tutors leading the courses; what the content will be and how the content will be delivered. If they give you less than satisfactory responses then simply walk away.
Follow these three guidelines and you shouldn’t be caught out. It can be easy to be dazzled by sales pitches and empty promises but it is vital that you do your homework and are 100% certain that the course is the very best for your needs.