High-tech features are now standard fare for modern educational institutions. Computer labs, instructor access via email, instantaneous assignment submissions, examination formats featuring keyboarded entries and immediate score calculation - the list goes on and on.
While greatly enhancing instructional efficiency, the old bugaboos of balancing multiple obligations with academic advancement still abound. The recent union of traditional teaching and technology has finally been consummated. Sit down for a proud pronouncement of their youngest offspring's recent birth. Class is hereby commenced for a closer look at the latest arrival into the family of higher learning.
Education is both lucrative and competitive. The net result is all manner of for-profit, private, and public organizations that offer online study. It is no wonder that prospective pupils can be caught in a virtual maze when selecting an online degree program.
Accreditation: the first mandatory prerequisite
Your very first assignment before hitting a single keystroke on any online admissions form is verification of the school's accreditation status.
Three basic categories of accreditation exist. Each has a different instructional implication and institutional focus.
This category is reserved mainly for professional graduate programs such as medical or law degrees. A poignant pointer: you will not find exclusively online programs of this type. Virtual formats simply cannot satisfy the highly specialized requirements of such programs.
As the name implies, national accrediting agencies accredit schools throughout the entire nation. In general, national accreditation is found among technical, vocational, and career-specific schools. Many such programs only issue certifications rather than full degrees.
This type of accreditation is found primarily among programs with pure academic emphases within non-profit institutions. Major colleges and universities almost universally have regional accreditation.
Do not enroll in any program that does not have regional accreditation. This is the only officially-recognized accreditation. The six regional accrediting agencies are the only ones that have any clout with Uncle Sam:
Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools (MSCHE)
Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)
New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)
North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA)
Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
As your bright minds have undoubtedly deduced, each agency confers accreditation within corresponding geographical boundaries of the US. None of these agencies have any governmental affiliation. Nonetheless, the US Dept. of Education reserves its official recognition exclusively for them.
The Accrediting Procedure
Accreditation entails an in-depth analysis of every aspect of an educational institution's format and structure. The process typically consumes several years. All academic areas are evaluated against pre-established criteria. The process is voluntarily sought by institutional candidates.
The adequacy of physical facilities, overall volumes of reference materials, academic and professional qualifications of faculty members, institutional budgetary matters, average class size, and student/faculty ratio are thoroughly reviewed.
After a lengthy process of documentation and publication via various educational forums, a school is awarded final accreditation. The process does not stop at this initial stage; accreditation is an ongoing thing. Schools are periodically re-evaluated and continuously monitored to assure quality control compliance.
Why it's important
Do not waste so much as a mouse click of time on institutions that do not offer accredited online college courses. Prior to completing any application or even writing an email to the Admissions Advisor, login to Uncle Sam's personal database of regionally-accredited institutions at ope.ed.gov/accreditation/Search.aspx.
Why the extra effort before enrolling in a single online course? Here's a logical thinking exercise, class. Are you going to all the trouble and expense of online degree pursuit just for fun? Do you plan to take on massive debt, exorbitant time expenditures, and other myriad major sacrifice just for entertainment? I should think not. If planning such folly, promptly retire to the corner after donning one of the "dunce" caps beside your desk.
If you enroll in any academic study plan other accredited online college courses, you will have no credibility with employers. You see, folks who found and maintain multi-billion-dollar global conglomerates are not dumb. Unaccredited schools' instructional quality and overall sufficiency is not reliable or credible with employers. Just as you seek out and strongly prefer for recognized, trustworthy products, companies think the same way.
Employers view graduates of unaccredited programs much as consumers perceive street-corner salesmen plying "gold" watches of obscure genre. There is simply no substitute for the assurance of compliance with educational standards which accredited online college courses offer. With that in mind, you are now excused to commence your excursion into quality educational attainment. Class is dismissed.