Advances in technology over the past decade have propelled colleges and universities into the realm of online education — creating a crowded market for students considering an online degree. In fact, the 2017 Distance Education Enrollment Report (powered through the Digital Learning Compass) determined that “more than one in four students (29.7 percent) now take at least one distance education course (a total of 6,022,105 students).”
However, not all programs are a safe bet. There are many indicators that can help students determine whether an online program is a good fit; yet all students should look for these three common factors before considering any program:
1). Accreditation: Like a stamp of approval, accreditation indicates that a school or degree program meets certain academic standards. While most colleges list their accreditation on their websites, students should do their legwork to ensure that the school’s credentials are legitimate. The College Navigator tool on the Department of Education’s website allows students to verify the accreditation of any school on their radar, as well as check for the vitals of that institution — including graduation rates, retention rates, and default rates on student loans.
2). Curriculum and Credits: Before enrolling in an online degree program, students should always verify whether the credits they earn can transfer to another college if they switch programs. Students should also research the curriculum for their respective online degree program to ensure that it matches apples to apples with the on-campus program. There are some schools that differentiate their on-ground programs from their online programs, so it’s important that students do their due diligence when applying.
3). Support Services: Earning a degree online doesn’t eliminate the need for academic assistance. In fact, in most cases, it increases the need for those services. Students should ensure that their online program meets their expectations by assessing all available resources — like career services, academic advisement, and intuitive registration systems. Any degree program that does not offer easy access to these services runs the risk of being deemed inefficient by prospects.
While these three concepts merely scratch the surface of all the factors students should consider when choosing an online program, they certainly address the most important ones. Ultimately, a degree program should be designed to enhance a student’s ability to penetrate the global market — and the online learning community should be no different. By analyzing a school’s accreditation, curriculum, and support services, online students become empowered to make informed decisions about their education and set themselves up for a successful career path in the future.