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Strategies to Evaluate Online Education


More and more institutions are offering programs using the Internet. Online opportunities give you the option of learning in flexible, convenient and personalized formats. Today, some colleges offer entire programs online. The quality of online education can be excellent, providing students with experiences, exercises and assessments that rival the traditional classroom.

Most of the questions you should ask any school before enrolling also apply to online education. If the school has both on-campus and online students, ask for information that specifically reflects the experiences of online students since their experiences may differ from those attending traditional classes. There are a number of additional questions you can ask to help you identify program and technical requirements as well as the academic and technical support available.

You should be able to find the answers to many of these questions from the school's website. If the information you need is not available there, then call, write or e-mail the school.

Online Scams and Diploma Mills

The Internet offers new ways for educational scams and diploma mills to reach out to people who are looking for genuine education. It is not always easy to identify phony operations from a casual look. A website can include elaborate efforts to deceive, even to the extent of using pictures of ivy-covered buildings when the entire operation consists of a post office box. If a school promises a degree for little or no work, it's probably not legitimate.

An online institution should provide a mailing address. This allows you to check with the higher education consumer protection authority in its home state to see whether it is operating legally under state law. Accreditation from a recognized accrediting agency is another sign that an online program is legitimate.

Online education programs may be subject to state consumer protection, but the ability of states to protect you through regulation is more limited than with classroom instruction. It is easy for operators that do not offer legitimate programs to set up a website and collect money without any external oversight. Sites may operate offshore and be out of reach of all U.S. authorities.