By John F. Ebersole, President of Excelsior College
1. Is the offering institution regionally accredited?
Unlike other parts of the world, regional accreditation is the highest form of institutional accreditation in the U.S. It provides a type of quality assurance necessary for most tuition assistance programs, the transferability of credits earned, and the ultimate recognition of any degree awarded. Go to www.ed.gov/admins/finaid/accreditation_pg7.html for information regarding accreditation.
2. What is the success rate for students who enter the program?
Do students who enroll finish? High drop out rates often indicate a poorly designed, or delivery, program.
3. Will the offering institution allow you to sample a course before making a financial commitment?
While a growing number of students around the world are pursuing entire degree programs online, the experience is not for everyone. See if it is right for you before making a final decision.
4. What support services exist to help ensure your success? Can you register and order books online? Access tutors or advisors?
The uniform accreditation standards for distance educational programs, as adopted by the six regional U.S. accrediting bodies, require that those student services typically found on a campus also be available online. This includes library access, financial aid counseling, registration services, etc.
5. Can you truly study "anytime" and "anyplace" to complete the program being considered?
Most distance programs allow for asynchronous study (student and faculty interact through online posting at different times) but some may require all students in a course to be online at the same time. Some institutions also require that some time be spent on campus. Such expectations should be understood up front.
6. Will the institution that you are considering provide you with contact information of graduates?
While a positive testimonial is not a guarantee, even a short conversation may provide valuable insight into the quality of the program.
7. What about the faculty?
While a concern for faculty mix is not unique to online learning, it can help in your evaluation of "fit." Adult students typically report that they are most satisfied with programs, regardless of discipline, which feature a blend of academics, who can provide a theoretical foundation, and practitioners, who can speak to their application.
8. What financial aid options are available?
Reputable distance education providers typically offer a variety of financial aid programs, as well as qualifying for employer-provided tuition assistance. If your program does not qualify for Title IV Financial Aid Programs, find out why.
9. How long has the institution been offering education at a distance?
While historic performance is not a guarantee of future quality or success, it is a factor to be considered.
10. What is the reputation of the offering institution? Is the college/university widely known?
Unfortunately, there are many bogus "institutions," which advertise online and in print, with names that are similar to those of legitimate colleges and universities. Such operations are not accredited, though they may claim otherwise. Do your homework.
Used by permission from the author
Education Writer and Counselor: Thomas Nixon
About.com's Continuing Education Page
While many students have heard of GRE exams, CLEP exams and the rest, the best choice may not be quite as recognizable. The DANTES Subject Standardized Tests, or DSSTs, were originally designed as a way for members of the military to earn college credit for either information they already possessed or information which they could learn through self-study. At present, there are close to forty examinations available with more in the works.
DANTES stands for Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support.
Why use the DSST exams when there are others available? For starters, the exam cost is only $60 each. (* Fees are subject to change.) Yes, that is $60 to earn three units. The tests are free to members of the military. Also, these exams are accepted at over 3,800 colleges and universities around the world and are recognized as worthy of credit by the American Council on Education.
Widespread recognition at a very reasonable cost is a difficult combination to beat.
Tests are in the general areas of mathematics, social science, business, physical science, applied technology, and humanities. Test titles range from 'Ethics in America' to 'Principles of Physical Science' to 'Organizational Behavior,' and many, many more. There are enough tests in enough different areas to earn a large portion of a college degree in this manner, provided you have or can get the knowledge necessary to pass the test.
Each test has a fact sheet that is downloadable from the website. The fact sheet includes information on the areas covered on that test, plus sample questions to give you some idea what to study. Should you need to study, the fact sheet also includes a list of recommended books.
If you're not ready to pass an exam and think that you need extra help, the Chauncey Group, creators of the exam, has partnered with iStudySmart.com to provide study courses, both online and by correspondence. Even with the $149 (or somewhat more) for the courses, that is still a reasonable amount for three units. iStudySmart.com offers courses for over twenty of the tests.
If you're not sure if you are ready to pass the exam, you can take practice tests. GetCollegeCredit.com is the civilian DSST website. On that site, you can take nineteen practice tests. Clearly, all practice tests are not available for all subject areas, but this can be a useful tool for those areas where one is provided. While passing the practice test in no way guarantees passing the real test, it is a good indicator.
If you hope to be successful with DSSTs or other credit-by-examination options, you may wish to follow this plan:
1. Check out the fact sheet for that test. Does it seem like this is something where you have previous knowledge? If it is, go to the next step. If it is not, you would be wise to study prior to taking the practice tests.
2. Test your knowledge. Use one of the practice tests at GetCollegeCredit.com or from one of the test preparation books available.
3. If you don't nail the test, consider either purchasing a textbook for the topic or using a test preparation company such as iStudySmart.com.
4. After sufficient studying, take a practice test again.
5. If you do well on the practice test, it's time for the real thing!
It's important that you don't rush the process. If you pass a practice test, but did not do particularly well, you are well-advised to learn more before taking the test. However, one advantage with the DSST is that the cost is so low relative to other tests that a failure on a single test does not cost you hundreds of dollars.
* DSST fees changed to $80 as of December, 2008.
Your goal of getting your college degree through distance education might seem at times like you bit off more than you can chew. A college degree IS a big goal. We want to show you how your biggest goal can become your biggest achievement. Here are a few of our Goal Setting secrets for success in distance education.
1. Break Down Your Long-Term Goal into short-term goals that are specific, measurable, challenging, attainable and targeted with deadlines. The following outline is an example of a good short-term goal:
- Pass General Psychology Exam
- Order module
- Determine study times and remain consistent
- Register for exam
- Take exam
2. Lay The Price of Commitment... A goal without commitment is merely a dream. A real goal is precious because it is your innermost expectation, desire, or hope. Therefore, it will require planning, sacrifice, hard work, and willingness to fail. A goal challenges you to stretch your boundaries farther than you believe possible. This is where the stumbling blocks to your success come in. You may doubt your decision and possibly your ability. You may say, "I don't have the time." "My child is sick." "I'm having financial difficulties." "I'm having to work more." "This external degree is just not for me."
Don't let these road blocks/excuses prevent you from reaching your goal! People who are unwilling to pay the price now miss the satisfaction and reward later. You have already decided that obtaining your college degree is worth it. Now, just remain focused and devoted and you'll achieve it.
3. Don't Fight With Failure - Learn From It! If you have failed to reach a goal, learn to find the lessons it has for you. Possible lessons are:
- You need to try harder next time.
- Your technique, skills, and knowledge need to improve.
- Your short-term goal was unrealistic.
* Get Your Not-So-Secret Rewards! By setting goals you will be able to...
- Achieve more
- Improve performance
- Increase your motivation to achieve
- Increase your pride and satisfaction in your achievements
- Improve your self-confidence
- Practice eliminating attitudes that hold you back and cause unhappiness
4. Research has shown that people who effectively use goal-setting...
- Suffer less from stress and anxiety
- Concentrate better
- Show more self-confidence
- Perform better
- Are happier and more satisfied
iStudySmart.com announces that they have qualified as the first company to meet Excelsior College's "Best Practices for Test Preparation Providers".
"For over 20 years, we have worked diligently to develop quality study materials and the highest degree of integrity possible for adult learners. Our customer service is top of the industry. I am pleased that the effort has allowed us to be the first company to meet this standard so far," says David Wright, President of iStudySmart.com.
Excelsior College is a pioneer in distance learning and in the development of non-traditional options for working adults pursuing degrees. Begun in 1971, Excelsior's philosophy has been that adults gain college-level knowledge in many ways. Work, hobbies, or other experiences outside the classroom contribute a potential student's body of knowledge. This philosophy led to the development of accredited degree programs that allow working adults to get credit for what they have learned and also provides a means for students to gain additional knowledge needed in the pursuit of a degree.
Excelsior offers online classes, but they also allow students to self-study and pass Excelsior College examinations to earn credit. In addition, Excelsior awards credit for specific professional certifications. By offering multiple options for earning credit, working adults have greater flexibility and can earn a degree without having to attend a traditional class. Although this meets the needs for many types of students, nurses have especially benefited from an online option for pursuing ADN or BSN degrees.
Numerous publishing companies have study materials that map to Excelsior College exams, particularly as associated with the nursing degrees. As in any industry, not all products offer the same value nor are all companies equally concerned with the needs of the students. Recognizing that some students would choose to obtain materials from outside vendors, Excelsior developed guidelines to aid students making that choice. The "Best Practices for Test Preparation Providers" is that guideline.
iStudySmart.com is honored to become the first company recognized for meeting these standards.