The growing popularity of online education has diploma mills and other fake degree programs looking for ways to cash in on the trend. For the ambitious but unsuspecting student, such scams can not only cheat them out of a good chunk of money, but also time and a good education. Unfortunately, many people looking to better themselves through online education still fall for these tricks.
How can one tell if the program they’re looking into is fake? Here are some basic questions students can ask when reviewing potential online schools:
Does this sound too good to be true?
Any program that promises you a degree for minimal work is probably a scam. Get your degree in 30 days? Get a diploma for $500? Think again.
Online education, while convenient, does not require any less study and research than any program that requires regular attendance in a classroom. In fact for some students, the self-discipline required to take an online class and stick to it can be a significant amount of effort outside of the coursework. Unless the program gives you a chance to accelerate your progress – and many of them do – be ready to spend roughly the same amount of time getting your degree online as you would in a brick and mortar institution. Getting a two year degree in a year and a half is realistic, with hard work. Getting the same degree in two months is bunk.
As with traditional schools, costs tend to vary for the education, depending on many variables. If a program offers a flat fee and a guarantee for the degree, it’s not the real thing.
What kind of school is this?
If you could choose your physician, you’d likely do a little research to make sure your body was in good hands. Why not make the same effort in choosing an online institution to make sure your future was in good hands? The unfortunate truth is that you could be severely penalized if you get caught passing off a fake degree, even if you didn’t know it was phony.
There are new legitimate programs cropping up everywhere, but if you can’t find adequate evidence of them online, or through a phone call, then it would be wise to keep your distance. Just like regular schools, good, legitimate online schools have track records that should be easily available, and a presence that assures their potential students that they aren’t just out there to take their money.
Make some calls. Ask around. Who are they affiliated with? Who is in their faculty? What other degrees or licenses do they offer? When in doubt, check with agencies like the local Better Business Bureau to see about any complaints, or licensing boards to see if they take professional licenses from the institution in question.
Are they accredited?
Okay, so you’ve found an online institution that’s convenient, relatively inexpensive, and offers the degree that you want. Great, but are they accredited?
Accreditation is what lets future employers or clients know that your degree comes from a respectable institution. If an institution is accredited, their website or other promotional material will mention the fact and bear the name of their accrediting agency. Accreditation tells the prospective student that their school is accountable to an outside agency for their practices and operations.
Bear in mind, however, that there are also a proliferation of fake accrediting agencies out there. A simple way to check whether the accrediting agency is legitimate would be to check out the U.S. Department of Education’s database of accredited programs and institutions. The non-governmental Council for Higher Education Accreditation also has a searchable database of accredited programs and distance learning institutions.