As popular as online education is getting these days, there are also an increasing number of scammers out there trying to capitalize on the trend. Without the traditional facilities and little, if any, actual face to face contact with staff and faculty in the online learning field, sometimes all these charlatans need is a well-designed website to trick people into sending their money in.
Sometimes, it’s not as insidious as greedy people trying to fake an online school. It could be a real online school that hasn’t gotten on its feet yet. Either way, however, students who don’t make sure their school is legitimate and recognized stand the chance of losing time and money, and sometimes even their jobs.
What is accreditation?
In the case of online learning, accreditation is the process by which a third-party agency recognizes the legitimacy of the institution and the quality of the education it offers. An accredited school has been evaluated by an accrediting agency and met the requirements that agency put forth to judge the quality of the school.
While it’s possible to go to any school that might not be accredited and get some education, accreditation is what guarantees any potential employers that you’ve gone through a recognized program and done the required work. Accreditation can also be the difference between getting a promotion at work and wasting your time and money only to get stuck in the same position, or worse, getting fired or otherwise severely penalized even if you didn’t intend to do wrong.
If you’re planning to transfer credits from an online program to a university for an advanced degree, accreditation is what tells the university that you have adequately prepared for their coursework.
How do I know if my online school is accredited?
The most basic way to find out if your online school is accredited would be to check their website. If they are an accredited institution, they will post that fact on their site and on any promotional material they distribute. They might also mention the accrediting agency’s name.
Be sure to check for the specific term “accredited.” Some fake or subpar schools might try to get by with words like “approved” or “certified” but for the savvy distance learner, “accredited” is the term that has to be used. Other schools might still be “pursuing accreditation”, which is another way of saying they don’t have the required accreditation. They may get it in the future, but what students need is an accredited institution now.
Checking for accreditation may not be enough, however, since there are a growing number of false accrediting agencies out there, formed for the sole purpose of legitimizing what could be a bogus or inferior online school. The U.S. government is not involved in the accreditation of online schools; accreditation takes place through area and regional agencies that each specialize in certain types of education in their area. Nevertheless, the U.S. Department of Education does have a searchable database of accredited programs and recognized accrediting agencies on its website. The non-governmental Council for Higher Education Accreditation also has a searchable database for programs and accrediting agencies.