What to Look For in an Online College Degree Program

So you want to pursue a college degree online? That’s great! Online education and distance learning programs are growing in popularity every year. The 2010 Sloan Survey of Online Education shows online education grew by over a million students the year before, with projections showing even greater growth in the future. Indeed, online degree programs are adding students at a much faster rate than traditional colleges and universities now.

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There are lots of quality, accredited online college degree programs, including many well known traditional campus-based schools that have started online education divisions in recent years. This gives prospective online students lots of choices for pursuing their online degrees. Unfortunately, the popularity of online degree programs has also attracted lots of hucksters and con-artists looking to make a quick buck through online diploma mills. Even some of the more well known and established for-profit online schools have been in the news for stretching the boundaries of honesty and integrity in order to get students into their degree programs and generate more revenue for their stock holders.

In trying to discern which online schools are credible and worth your consideration for an online college degree, here are three things to look for:

1. Is the school accredited? Accreditation agencies are charged with ensuring schools meet basic standards of educational quality. The best way to find out if a school is accredited is to use the U.S. Department of Education’s Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs. Just enter the name of the school you’re interested in and hit “search”.

2. What is the graduation rate? Low graduation and retention rates (students who return after the first year) suggest low student satisfaction and/or low student quality. The easiest way to find out a college’s graduation rate is through the College Results Online searchable database. As with the accreditation database linked to above, just enter the name of the school you’re interested in and hit “search.”

3. Are they up front about tuition and fees? Most schools post their program tuition and fees on their web site, but many schools make you first fill out a request form or speak with a school representative before they will tell you anything about what it’s going to cost. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad schools, but one has to wonder why they make it so difficult to find out the bottom line.

These are just a few basic questions to keep in mind when searching for the best online degree program for you and your budget. Good luck!