How to Find a Quality Online Degree

online degree valueWhile online degrees were once largely seen as being second-rate, recent studies have reported that employers are not only more open to, but are even showing a favorable sentiment toward candidates with online degrees these days.

One such study, conducted by Excelsior College/Zogby International, found that 61 percent of CEOs and small-business owners were familiar with online degree programs -- and 83 percent of those considered online degrees equivalent to those earned in a traditional classroom.

Besides the increase in reputation these programs are experiencing, online degrees have also become so popular, that if employers were to disregard candidates with such degrees, they'd also be disqualifying a significant portion of the work force.

A recent study conducted by education marketing firm EducationDynamics shows that, since 1999, enrollment in online degree programs has increased nearly 1,000 percent; and, according to another study by Babson Survey Research Group, at least 4.6 million students in the United States were taking at least one online class during the fall 2008 term, the most recent period from which data is available.

While online education has clearly come a long way in terms of both quality and reputation, some programs are still miles ahead of others when it comes to quality and -- like with graduates of traditional universities -- employers often take quality of education into account when making a hiring decision.

Unfortunately, the relative youth of online education can make it hard to distinguish a quality program from a degree mill; online universities are not yet included in the highly-regarded ranking systems like those produced by US News and World Report, the Princeton Review or Barron's, and many online schools don't have long-standing reputations that precede them. Though you won't find an excess of third-party evaluations to help you choose a quality degree program, doing a little research on your own can help you find a school that will stand up to both your educational standards and an employer's interview process.

Here are a few things you must know about choosing an online university:

Check accreditation

Accreditation means that a school has met a baseline educational standard, so if a school you're considering isn't accredited, it's time to reconsider. The U.S. Department of Education maintains a searchable online database of accredited schools in the United States. Before enrolling, be sure to check that your school is on that list.

While most online universities will be accredited by some sort of agency, not all accreditations are created equal. Schools will be accredited by either a regional or national agency, and there is a difference between the certifications.

If you're thinking about continuing your schooling in the future at a traditional college, for example, then it's best to choose a regionally accredited school, since most traditional universities are regionally accredited and only accept transfer credits and recognize degrees from other regionally accredited schools.

Regional accreditation agencies are broken down by geographic region. They are:

  • Middle State Association of Colleges and Schools
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges
  • North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges

There are plenty of regionally accredited online schools to choose from though, so finding one shouldn't be too difficult. The University of Phoenix, Devry University and Kaplan University are all accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, for example (the same regional agency responsible for accrediting universities like Arizona State, Michigan State, Northwestern and Purdue).

If you're applying to a technical, theological or vocational school, on the other hand, then it's better to look for a nationally accredited program, since these agencies often specialize in a type of school (i.e. the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology) rather than a geographic area.

Read reviews

Since online degree programs aren't typically included in published college rankings, you'll have to look elsewhere for a third-party opinion of online schools. Some websites, like Online Education Database, have begun to rank schools based on things like acceptance rate, graduation rate, scholarly citations and student-faculty ratio.

Additionally, the website lets you and compare and contrast 17 of the most popular online colleges, based on criteria including student demographics, student engagement and alumni outcomes.

Take your career path into account

If your goal in life is to become a doctor, for example, and you want to start your schooling at an online university, you may run into problems down the line. Most medical schools require students take a certain amount of lab-based courses -- which can't be done online, for obvious reasons.

The same goes for other "hands-on" career paths. While online learning may be a great way to get basic courses under your belt, you may want to transfer to a traditional university when it comes time for the technical stuff.

Pay attention to red flags

Many online universities are for-profit -- and while that doesn't necessarily reflect on the quality of the education provided, it's still important to make sure that profit isn't all a school is after before you enroll. According to the Better Business Bureau, warning signs that your online university may actually be a degree mill include:

  • The school charges by program, not by course or credit hour.
  • There is no physical address, or a P.O. Box is given as the mailing address. Even online universities need physical addresses, where the "back-end" operations are headquartered.
  • More emphasis is placed on earning credits through "real-world" learning than on classroom time.
  • The length of the degree program is significantly shorter than equivalent programs at other universities.

By applying the tips above to your online-degree research, you'll be able to make an intelligent decision about your education.

Sources:, U.S. Department of Education, The Higher Learning Commission

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Online for-profit schools are merely glorified diploma mills! While they may be accredited, their accreditation means nothing to employers and traditional brick-and-mortar schools. Plus, the cost of these fake schools are nearly 3x's the cost of a traditional brick-and-mortar school.

Quit kidding yourselves, these online schools are worthless in the eyes of employers and the general public. But if you insist on doing it online at least choose a state, community college, or private non-profit university (Colorado State University has an awesome online network for undergrads and graduates).

January 05 2011 at 8:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Finding an accredited school is very important when it comes to finding business management online schools. I recommend Thunderbird's online programs if you want to further your education, they are a world renowned school, accredited and very reputable.

January 05 2011 at 8:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

pangai said... Online education is a very significant part of the future of many brick and mortar schools as well. The University of Maryland, California State Universities, and other well-known universities have on-line classes that supplement students' curricula. Bill H just needs to get over his prejudice and accept that this is the new reality. I do not know why he is a hater, but like many who fear change, it is an inevitable evolution


Our discussion is to alert people of the multimillion dollars scams with PRIVATE business- called boutiques of modern day like Debry and Phoenix!!

Beware of private schools claiming to offer degrees. YOU can get the same course for a fraction of the cost with your own state college/community schools. They too offer online many programs, you need to check with them.

DO not pay PRIVATE schools- which are companies listed on the stock exchange with your money- your STIUDENT loans! The counsellors of these private schools are typical salesmen vying for your money!!

January 03 2011 at 2:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If your online course is offered by the sate college/school- then go for it.

Only beware of sharks - private schools such as Devry/Phoenix- a company that will rip you off with a huige debt!!

You need to pick up courses offered by your state college- they are more trustworthy. In fact many state schools have now online programs.

DO now get trapped by private boutiques like Devry- they run their multi-million dollar marketing campaign to load you with a huge debt!!

January 03 2011 at 2:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If the online degree is offered by a tradional college- especially state schools - go fot it. BUT beware of private schools such as Devry and Phoenix- they are there to rip you off.

If it is your state school or communinity college, that is a diffent issue.
Beware of private boutiques such such listed companies like Devry!!!

They run their multi million dollar ads over TV /Radio wiht your MONEY- which is your DEBT!!!

January 03 2011 at 2:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

if you ever need an online degree- go to your nearest state school and they can be trusted. do not ever pay devry/phoenix for thier crap. private school are business boutiques where your are funding the multi-million dollar eaner- the president of the school, it is that simple, period!!

A recent AOL article showed the multi-million dollar salaries drawn by the presidents alone of the private business boutiques.

If you ever need a online degree- go to you nearest state school/college they do offer more trustworthy courses that suit you well. Do not get trapped by multi million dollar ads these buutiques play on media . They are there to take your money and rip you off!

Go to your nearest state school. They have the online course you need and it is a fraction of the money you give to these SHARKS- such as Devry and Phoenix!!

January 03 2011 at 2:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

if you ever need an online degree- go to your nearest state school and they can be trusted. do not ever pay devry/phoenix for thier crap. private school are business boutiques where your are funding the multi-million dollar eaner- the president of the school, it is that simple, period!!

January 03 2011 at 1:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Phoenix U does not exist. It is all internet for profit. Look up the graduation rate. 11%! WOW! After 2 years you will owe $20,000.00 and will have nothing but a worthless piece of paper. I checked for my daughter, nobody is the south accepts Phoenix U as being acredited. Ob, by the way you will see Phoenix University football stadium on tv. Here's the funny part, they don't have a football team. They leased the name of the stadium only. The lawsuits and settlements are enormous against that school. If you are one of the sheep who have been sheared, sorry folks, its all about taking your money.

January 03 2011 at 1:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It is not being rude when people are skeptic about any online degree- especiallt that is offered by Devry/Phoenix. It is just that these boutiques are capitalising on your thirst for career move.
In fact it is dispicable that these boutiques are after your money to run thier business.

They load you with a BIG debt and you will never land a JOB givne the quality of the education they claim they deliver and then you are on the streets!!!

It is very important to those who are hoodwinked by these sharks to know they are in to rip you off!!!

January 03 2011 at 1:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My wife recently completed her BS from Montana State all online, she started at Seattle Pacific and after a relocation finished up at Montana. We live in Oregon and the funny thing is in all of her classes there were students that were attending at the School but the convenience or time constraints moved them to take some of their classes online. One time her prof was in a coffee shop online with everyone and a couple of students were in the same coffee shop attending class, my wife was at home eight months pregnant. Bill get a life you ignorant....

January 03 2011 at 1:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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