Beware of “diploma mills,” which award illegitimate degrees to students on the internet. Among the most important steps a prospective student can take is to ensure an online degree program is accredited by an organization recognized by either the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. This information is typically listed on a school or program’s website and can affect how an online degree is perceived by employers as well as other colleges and universities, should a student decide to transfer. See the Online College Accreditation section below for more information.
It’s also essential to look out for red flags on a program’s website. Anything that seems too good to be true – earning a degree in a very short time period, for instance, or at an extremely low cost – is a warning sign. The opposite is also true: If a program seems abnormally expensive, conduct further research. Other red flags include a program not listing a campus or business address online, the website having a lot of grammatical or spelling errors or lacking a “.edu” URL, and the school failing to post information about student support services.
Online College Accreditation
Accreditation is a process that an outside authority conducts to ensure a school or degree program – either on campus, online or a combination of both – meets certain standards of quality and rigor. Accreditation is a voluntary process, though it has several benefits and essentially validates a program to employers and other institutions. When choosing an online degree program, prospective students should check to ensure it has accreditation from an organization recognized by either the U.S. Department of Education or the nonprofit Council for Higher Education Accreditation, or CHEA. These organizations monitor programs and schools continuously to renew their accreditation every few years.
In many cases, it’s important for students to confirm that an online degree program is accredited at both the institutional level, which applies to the entire university, and the programmatic or specialized level for particular degrees, departments or schools. Not every program will have specialized accreditation. It varies depending on the school and industry standards, and students can speak with their academic adviser to learn more about what types of accreditation is expected from employers in a given career field. Employers will typically verify that a job candidate’s degree comes from an accredited program, especially if the school name is unfamiliar to them. Should a student decide to change programs, a transfer-friendly school is more likely accept their course credits if they come from an accredited institution.
Information regarding whether an online degree program is accredited is often available on a school’s website. To avoid scams, especially for lesser-known colleges and universities, prospective online students should verify their school or program’s accreditation with CHEA or the U.S. Department of Education. Given the complex nature of accreditation, asking an adviser for clarification is a smart move.