Consider Level of Academic Quality at Online Universities

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There are many options for prospective students to attend school online—but not all colleges and programs are created equal. As with brick-and-mortar schools (many of whom are getting in on the online education rush as well), a degree from a prestigious and accomplished school carries more weight (and a heavier price tag) than one from a lesser-known institution. It isn’t all about image, of course; better schools have better professors, more comprehensive programs, and better support for their students. And, as is the case with the rest of the internet, there are scams in the world of online education. Some ostensible distance learning opportunities are nothing more than degree factories whose courses of study have little merit in comparison with other schools and programs. To ensure that you’re getting the most out of your investment of time, money and effort, make sure that you know the important indicators of an online school or program’s level of academic quality.

Look for Accreditation

Accreditation is an affirmation of a school or program’s validity and merit. It is conferred or awarded by an external organization that is not specifically attached to the institution or program that it is accrediting. They objectively evaluate the quality of the education offered, and if it meets their standards, the school or program receives accreditation. This means it has met regional and national standards for academic adequacy. Accrediting institutions are private, but they work in tandem with one another and with federal agencies, particularly the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, which provides oversight for accrediting institutions and helps them maintain relatively uniform standards. There are, however, illegitimate accreditations that do not fall under the purview of the Council, and therefore do not guarantee that a particular school or program meets the established standards and requirements. The Council’s website provides databases of accredited schools and academic programs and of legitimate accrediting bodies. Likewise, national and state departments of education provide lists of accredited institutions. Legitimate accreditation is one of the most important things to look for in an online program. It affirms that you’ve received a quality education when it comes time to apply for a job or to graduate school.

Compare Curricula

Look at the courses that are offered in your chosen field the classes that you will be required to take and pass in order to obtain your degree. If they are available, examine also the websites for these courses and the people who will be teaching them; you may be able to find course resources and information that will help you to evaluate the quality and difficulty of the program. Most importantly, you’ll be able to discern how well these courses will prepare you for your career after graduation. Likewise, take the time to acquaint yourself with the professors who will be passing their knowledge on to you. Where did they earn their degrees? Have they earned any awards and distinctions in their professional or academic careers? If the field is research-based, how prolifically and extensively have they published? How frequently cited are they by other academics in the field? What do student reviews say about their experiences in these professors’ classrooms? All of these things are important indicators of a professor’s quality as a scholar and as a teacher.

Check for Support Services

Beyond just the scholastic aspect, consider what else is offered by an online college or course of study. Do distance learners gain access to library resources like online databases, research assistance and electronic journal subscriptions? Does the program provide financial advising or student and career resources? Will academic counseling and tutoring be made available to you if you need it? A legitimate online school is interested in more than just taking your money and giving you a degree. They are staking their reputation on your performance as a student as a graduate of their institution. Carefully considering the issues above will help you answer a fundamental question about an online program: how much is this school investing in you? If the answer is “not much,” then it’s probably best to move on to more beneficent options.

Weigh the Numbers

Finally, statistics can be extremely enlightening regarding the quality of the academic experience a school offers. Amongst these, graduation rate is key; a high graduation rate, and a concomitantly low attrition rate, shows that students are successfully completing their programs and earning their degrees. Another important figure to take note of is employment rate amongst graduates; a low number may mean that the school’s career resources are not up to snuff, or that the education provided simply does not make graduates viable contenders in the job market. The key to finding a high-quality online college is to do your research beforehand. By considering all of the elements discussed above, you’ll be able to pick out the best online educations that the internet has to offer and make an informed decision that will help you make the most of your future.