E-learning programs are becoming more and more vital in the world of higher education. Online programs make it possible for more people around the globe to reach their educational goals. And for veterans looking to add an additional degree or get their first degree, online universities are attractive options.
Veterans and students need to understand the importance of getting a degree from an accredited institution and the dangers of getting one from a school without accreditation. Online schools are businesses, and the business they are in is selling an education to the students who enroll in their programs. Students should learn how to recognize and avoid “diploma mills,” which are more interested in taking your money than providing you with a quality education. The following red flags are listed by the Better Business Bureau when considering whether or not to enroll in a school.
- Degrees that can be earned in less time than an accredited post-secondary school, such as a bachelor’s degree in a few short months.
- A list of accrediting agencies that sounds a little too impressive, often implying official approval by mentioning state registration or licensing.
- Offers that mention giving credit for lifetime or real-world experience.
- Tuition paid on a per degree basis, often offering discounts for enrolling in multiple degree programs. Accredited institutions charge by the credit hour or semester.
- Little, if any, interaction with professors.
- Names that are similar to well-known universities.
- Addresses that are P.O. boxes or suites. The campus may very well be a mail box at an apartment complex or a one-room office at a strip mall.
Diploma mills can often claim accreditation by a fake accrediting agency in order to make themselves seem legitimate. To be sure of the accrediting agency, check the U.S. Department of Education’s List of Nationally Recognized Accrediting Agencies. If you still have doubts you can contact The Better Business Bureau or the State Attorney General’s Office to see if the school is operating legally or if anyone has filed a complaint. Numbers such as low graduation rates and high student loan default rates can tell you a lot about an online program as well.
Ask the hard questions – any accredited school will definitely provide this information either on its website or through an enrollment counselor. Verify that the credits you earn can be transferred to another college if you switch programs. If you have prior college credits, ask if they can be used toward your degree. Ensure that the online degree program you are going into is going to help you advance into your chosen career field. If you are having a hard time getting information about these questions or what it would be like to be a student at the school, that’s a big red flag. Students should also fully understand their financial package before signing any paperwork and be wary of pushy financial advisors who want you to take out loans, particularly private loans. Not all online colleges are diploma mills, but it definitely pays to do your homework.