Can I Trust Online Colleges?

By Celeste Stewart

Like online shopping and banking, online colleges have had to overcome numerous obstacles as educators move from the classroom and into the cloud. One of the biggest obstacles is credibility. Students often ask if they can trust online colleges and if an online degree is respected in the business world. Let’s tackle these burning questions and find out if an online college is the right choice for you.

Can I Trust an Online College?

Yes – if you do your research and select a credible one. One of the most important factors involves whether or not the online college is accredited. Accreditation tells you that the college has met or exceeded an established set of educational standards. Because some dubious “accrediting” agencies exist, it’s wise to rely only on those accrediting agencies that have been approved by the U.S. Department of Education. This can help you avoid diploma mills and focus your search on online colleges that have met the highest of standards.

Like traditional colleges and universities, trustworthy online colleges come in many forms ranging from online branches of public and private institutions to for-profit online colleges. For example, Penn State University, one of U.S. News and World Report’s top 50 national brick and mortar universities, also has a robust online degree program.

Another important measure of an online college’s credibility has to do with financial aid. New “gainful employment” regulations require colleges to prepare students for gainful employment in a recognized occupation or risk access to federal student aid. Once these requirements are in full effect, a college’s lack of federal student aid could be a red flag.

Is an Online Degree Respected in the Business World?

Again, it comes down to the credibility of the institution that issues the degree. Employers understand that completing a degree program is an accomplishment and respect the hard work that goes into it. They also respect the newly acquired knowledge and skills that a higher education brings. Here’s what they don’t respect: diploma mills. Just as you can quickly research the credibility of an online degree program, employers can too. You can bet that most employers can tell the difference between a credible online degree and a bogus one.

Who do you trust? What to Look for in an Online College

  1. Accreditation – Check with the U.S. Department of Education to be sure that the online college has been accredited by an approved accrediting agency.
  2. Reputation – Check with professionals in your desired occupation, employers, educators, past students and other sources to gauge the college’s reputation. News reports, college ranking reports and online reviews are also good sources.
  3. Results – Find out about graduation rates, student loan default rates, student placement and compliance with any applicable “gainful employment” regulations. Note: the new regulations go into effect on July 1, 2012 and are expected to be fully implemented over a period of four years.
  4. Financial aid options – If an online college is prohibited from offering federal student aid, it may not be the most credible choice you can make. Consider a lack of federal student aid a serious red flag.

Credible online colleges offer a convenient, respected route to a higher education. Do your research and you will are sure to find an online degree program that you can trust.



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