As with anything else, there are pluses and minuses. Online education still suffers from a stigma because it’s not “traditional.” Some online universities are incorporating a classroom component, where you might have to attend a classroom session once a month, but some people still see it as “buying” your degree (which is still true with some institutions).
Another drawback of online education is that it’s self-paced. Self-paced learning is a double edged sword. For some, they learn at their own speed. For others, they learn at the last minute and don’t get the full value of the course because they’re trying to cram it all in at the last moment. Understanding how you’ll handle self-paced learning is important in understanding of online education is for you.
We’ve briefly discussed the benefits and drawbacks of online education, let’s look at how you should choose a an online education institution.
The easiest measure of a university is whether it’s been accredited. Accreditation is a way to determine the quality of the education at a particular school. It’s performed by state and local private accreditation organizations, not the federal government. Fortunately, the Higher Education Act of 1965 required the U.S. Secretary of Education to publish a list of nationally recognized accrediting agencies and subsequently a database of nationally accredited post-secondary institutions and programs.
It’s important to note that not all accreditation’s are created equal, though all are recognized as equal by the federal government. It’s generally accepted that regional accreditation is the highest level of accreditation a school can get. There are six regional accreditating organizations:
Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
New England Association of Schools and Colleges
North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
Western Association of Schools and Colleges
Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
You can also go to the Council on Higher Education Accreditation to find out more about the accreditation body that accredited an online university you’re looking at. They track both legitimate and fraudulent claims.
Finally, individual programs or degrees of study are not accredited, the institution as a whole is put through the accreditation process. You can read more abouteducational accreditation, which includes any level of schooling, at Wikipedia.
You do not have to be accredited to open a school and award degrees.
That’s a very important point to understand. A school may be authorized to operate and not be accredited, so you’ll want to check its accreditation and which organization awarded it.
Why does accreditation matter? Some employers and other universities may not recognize degrees you’ve obtained or classes you’ve attended at non-accredited universities because they can’t be sure of the quality of the education. By going to a non-accredited school, you run the risk that your degree or your classes aren’t recognized, so why risk it?