Online schools are a relatively new concept in college education, so it can seem a little daunting to enroll in a program taught completely online or through correspondence. Here are the answers to a few frequently asked questions, to provide you with a better understanding of this alternative mode of education.
How do I know my school is not a diploma mill?
What is an online school?
Typically, online schools are either an extension of a campus-based college, or part of a separate institution specializing in one or more fields. For example, Everest University Online is an extension of the Everest College family of campus-based schools, while Ashworth College offers several programs entirely online, with no campus presence. These schools are designed to provide education options to working professionals, students with families, those in the military, and others whose schedules don’t work with traditional college classes.
How are online classes taught?
Usually several students take the same online class at once, with an instructor monitoring their progress through Web tools and regular communication. In these cases, students log into the school’s Web interface to study at their leisure, and can communicate with each other and with their instructor through tools such as message boards, chat and email. Students may be assigned group projects, which they complete by working together long-distance (similar to how much of the professional world functions). Assignments are turned in online, while tests are taken through the school’s Web interface.
In other cases, such as with a correspondence school, the student studies by receiving learning packets through the mail or through email. The student studies at her leisure, completing assignments and open-book tests as assigned. An instructor is always within contact via email or by phone.
Is online course content the same as a traditional course?
Course content always varies slightly from school to school, but for the most part a school’s online program will offer the same curriculum as that school’s classroom program. Online programs are highly focused and organized for the best flow of information, so if you stay engaged, you will learn the same subject material as is taught in the classroom. Most graduates of online programs have reported that having the self-discipline to ignore distractions and stay on task is the most difficult aspect.
How acceptable are online degrees to employers?
Because of rapid growth in online learning and shortages of skilled employees, employers have lately been much more receptive to online degrees than in previous years. Whereas two years ago it wouldn’t be unusual for an employer to pass on a resume simply because a degree was earned online, surveys show that more employers now judge an online degree by gauging the credibility and prestige of the school, as with a traditional degree. Of course, as with any degree, the better the school, the more accepted the degree.
First, we at Ace Online Schools only recommend reputable, established schools that have proven records of delivering a quality education — so if you find a school through our website, it won’t be a diploma mill.
That said, diploma mills are rare in online education, similar to credit card scammers among online shopping sites. They exist though, and can be spotted if you are observant. Diploma mills are organizations that accept payment for falsified degrees or diplomas, awarded based on vaguely construed “life experience” or previous education. They are characterized by a few things, such as unreasonably short program lengths (in weeks or days, rather than months or years), flat fees for their degrees (versus credit or semester-based fees), and most importantly a lack of established accreditation — though many of them claim to be accredited by organizations not recognized by the US Department of Education or the Council of Higher Education Accreditation.
The best way to judge the credibility of an online institution is to find out about its accreditation (see: How to Check an Online School’s Accreditation). The most credible schools are regionally accredited, meaning the degree will be as accepted as traditional ones are. Another accrediting body accepted by most institutions and employers is the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC). There are also several professional organizations that accredit schools within their field, and those degrees will be accepted by employers and institutions in that field. An institution’s accreditation can be checked by visiting the Web site of the accrediting organization, which will keep a current list of its accredited schools.
(Also see: How to Spot a Diploma Mill)