Beware of Certain Online Schools

Written by Veronica Craker, Managing Editor & Writer

Person studying and learning - Knowledge concept

Convenience is just one perk to attending school online. There’s also the ability to attend a school offering the degree you’re interested in —which might not be available at your local university. And you can’t forget that it is often more affordable to take courses online. That’s because you won’t be shelling out for gas if you’re commuting, lodging if you have to relocate or maybe even childcare if you’re lucky. Chances are you can even keep your full-time job.

Today, more institutions are offering distance learning courses and more students are enrolling. A survey released by the Online Learning Consortium shows a 3.9 percent rise in the number of higher education students taking at least one distance learning course. But it’s not all rainbows and kittens for online institutions, especially for for-profit colleges. In the report it details a disparity among private, nonprofit colleges and private for-profit schools. While enrollment for private nonprofit institutions increased by 11.3 percent, it decreased 2.8 percent for private for-profit institutions.

Trouble for online intuitions has been mounting for some time. Last month the Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit against DeVry University claiming the schools advertisements deceived students about the probability they would find jobs in their field of study and would earn more money than those graduating with degrees from other institutions.

On Feb. 8 University of Phoenix owner, Apollo Education Group, announced it will be bought for $1.1 billion by a private equity firm. The university has been party to federal investigations in the past, with allegations ranging from deceptive advertising to questionable financial aid practices.

Unfortunately, these types of risks are not uncommon. As the number of online schools rise, so will the failure rate of these for-profit schools.

I spoke with Alaska resident Megan James last month after hearing about problems she’s faced with her online college. James attended a well-known for-profit institution in 2005 and claimed the school offered her subpar classes and did little to help her find a more financially responsible way for paying her tuition.

“I am a first generation college student so I had no idea what I was getting into,” she said.

After taking what she calls “inferior” courses she ended up with $30,000 in student loan debt.

“I pay $1,000 dollars a month on my loan,” James said. “My house payment is only $1,200.”

When James transferred to the University of Alaska Fairbanks she discovered many of her credits would not be accepted.

“They didn’t’ meet the criteria of their curriculum,” James said. “Which implied to me that they were inferior classes.”

What types of classes was James taking exactly?

“One was a math class, one was strategic management class, another was an ethics class,” James said. “After I took a couple for classes at UAF I quickly realized ‘oh yeah this is way harder.’”

She says if she could do it all over again she would make an appointment to meet a financial aid officer who has her best interests in mind.

“I would want to talk to a financial aid person that works at a nonprofit or somewhere else that doesn’t have anything to gain,” she said.

Interested in attending an online school?

There’s no need to be against enrolling in an online school, but it is important to do your homework before applying. Here are some things to remember when researching your school:

Start with accreditation. Look for accredited universities by visiting Accredited Schools Online. Be sure to research the school’s past to ensure it is a trusted institution.

Beware of diploma mills. These types of schools offer “degrees” to students in a short amount of time for a flat fee. These types of diplomas are not valid, and end up costing the student more than just money.

Review graduation statistics. Ask to see statistics on graduation and drop-out rates from your chosen school. Be skeptical of institutions that are unable to provide the information or if the drop-out rate is high.

Find A+ institutions. To find a trusted online school visit BBB’s Online Education Accredited Business Directory to read their ratings, complaint histories and contact details.