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Giving Distance Education Learning the Third Degree

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

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