What to Look for and Avoid When Researching Online Colleges
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Accredited Online Colleges

There are busy professionals all over the world who want to move forward in their careers. The only thing stopping them is more education. It would be easy to just sign up with the first online college you see an advertisement for, but there is such a thing as something being too good to be true.

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There are some online schools that offer programs without official accreditation. Sure, you will get a piece of paper, but it may not hold up against official certifications. This is why you should always do research into accredited online colleges, so you know exactly what you are applying and paying for.

What to Look For

It is crucial that you are certain your online college of choice is properly accredited. If it is not, your credits will not transfer to other universities, and your degree will be virtually worthless. According to thebestschools.org:

"Accreditation is academia’s quality assurance system, and you need to know which accreditors are legitimate. In the U.S., private non-profit accrediting organizations take on the task of accrediting schools by evaluating faculty, resources, curriculum, competency, and credibility...The US Department of Education (USDE) and Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) are responsible for validating whether an accreditation agency itself is competent and credible...Ultimately, USDE recognition is the most important. Institutions without USDE recognition cannot offer federal aid to students, and credits from non-USDE recognized schools may not transfer to other schools."

The USDE and CHEA publish a list on their website of recognized accrediting organizations, which determines accredited online colleges. There are almost 100 included in this list and they have differing statuses. They may be recognized by both the USDE and CHEA, only one of them, or neither of them. This list is essential if you are doing your research to determine which online school works for you.

Finding the Accreditation

So, you have chosen a few online universities to consider. Now it is time to find out what accrediting system they use. Start by going to the university website. Let’s use University of Phoenix as an example. The link to their accreditation is at the bottom of their homepage, which makes it easy to find.

The university has several colleges within it (business, nursing, accounting, management), and each one has its own accreditation. The business college accreditation is through The Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP). A quick look at the list on the CHEA website shows that the ACBSP is accredited by CHEA, but not by USDE. That means a degree from this school is not accredited by the USDE, so credits are unlikely to transfer, and federal student aid is not accepted.

Let’s try another one: Capella University. The accreditation link is right on the front page of the website, along with the logos of their accreditation associations. This is a good sign. However, when compared to the CHEA list, none of Capella’s accreditations are approved by the USDE.

An attempt was made to find the accreditation credentials for another university, but the website did not list the information. In this case, you would be required to call the university to see if your credits are transferable.

Odds are, if you are trying to go to school online, you are not interested in long, drawn out conversations on the phone. Universities that do not make their accreditation statuses easy to find should not even be considered. You must ask yourself, why won’t they share the information publicly?

Things to Avoid

Avoid any university that does not share its accreditation credentials publicly. You do not want to end up wasting your time with an institution that isn’t willing to share this information.

Read the fine print! One university website had a disclaimer that students in their nursing program would not earn a Bachelor of Science degree, but rather an Associate of Science degree. This indicates that the university may be playing the bait-and-switch game.

Do a cost comparison. You do not want to choose the less expensive school as a knee-jerk reaction. The less expensive school may be cheaper, but it also may not have any solid credentials, and could be far less valuable to your career when compared to accredited online colleges. You’ll end up with credits that do not transfer and a degree with questionable value.

Avoid schools with low graduation rates and high student loan defaults. This tells you that students learned after the fact that the school was either not properly accredited, or that the curriculum did not meet the quality of another university they wished to transfer to.

Look at all the statistics for the university. Low graduate employment rates should certainly raise a red flag about the quality and reputation of the school, and might also hint at a larger problem: diploma mills. These types of institutions try to make a quick profit by pushing through a ton of graduates with easy degrees that have little to no value in job search, due to the poor quality of education provided, lack of reputation or lack of proper accreditation, among others. When deciding on a school, pay specific attention to retention, success and default rates; it will be easy to spot the good options and the bad options.

Finally, avoid being drawn in by slick advertisements and pushy enrollment counselors. Most online colleges are for-profit, which means their primary goal is to get new students to enroll. This could be a sign that the university does not put enough into its curriculum development or instructor recruitment.

While online universities can certainly be a terrific option for students who are also working, you must start your journey with appropriate research to ensure you are getting the quality education that you need.

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