Guide Beware of For-Profit Online Education: What Every New Student Should Know Before Enrolling Online

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But it has taken the University of Phoenix just 34 years to reach a student body approaching , What is driving the explosive growth of Phoenix and other for-profit institutions of higher education? Are students--and U. At their best, for-profit institutions provide quality, innovative options for students who want to pursue postsecondary education while managing work and family obligations.

Earlier this month, at the second in a series of committee hearings on for-profit colleges, an investigator for the Government Accountability Office testified about the results of its undercover investigation of recruitment practices at 15 for-profit colleges.

For-profit and online colleges spend the least on instruction, report finds

The GAO found that extreme and deceptive tactics were widespread, and acts of outright fraud were not unusual. GAO investigators used fictitious identities to pose as prospective students. Four of the 15 colleges encouraged fraudulent practices, such as advising students to submit false information on applications for federal financial aid. For example, one admissions officer advised an undercover student that he might qualify for a Pell grant if he claimed to be supporting three dependents instead of being a single-person household. Recruiters at all 15 colleges used pressure tactics to convince students to enroll on the spot, without the opportunity to fairly evaluate the costs or to consider less-expensive alternatives.

These tactics get results. Students enroll in expensive programs and take on huge levels of debt. Drop-out rates, as well as default rates on student loans, are extremely high. At a minimum, prospective students should do the following research:.

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Community colleges often offer the same degrees at a fraction of the cost. Many also offer flexible online programs. Student loans are money borrowed by a student from a lender that must be paid back, with interest, according to the terms of the loan contract. Student loans come from three primary sources: the Federal government, state governments and private lenders.

For-Profit Colleges: What to Know Before You Enroll

Grants are similar to loans except a student does not have to pay the money back. Grants can be obtained from many sources, including state governments and directly from colleges and universities. The Federal Pell Grant program is among the most widely known; Pell Grants provide funds primarily to undergraduate students on a by-need basis. Scholarships tend to be merit-based or dependent on criteria such as membership in a sponsoring organization or ethnic or minority group.

Colleges, corporations and non-profits offer a majority of scholarships to students. The money does not need to be paid back. Not all online schools are the same, and neither are their students. Some students prefer more flexible learning environments, others want a program that helps them earn a degree and transition to a career as quickly as possible.

These two primary delivery modes at online schools come with unique benefits for students.

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Hybrid or blended courses are those that combine online work with some level of in-person class or lab participation. The balance between online and on-site participation requirements can vary substantially from class to class depending on the nature of the course materials covered. With asynchronous courses, instructors provide any or all of course materials for access by students at any time of their convenience.

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  4. Time limits for completion of a particular session's work may be required. Every degree-granting institution in the United States must hold some sort of accreditation. The key is understanding which accreditation statuses matter the most and why.

    Online Schools by State

    Let's examine three of today's most popular accreditation statuses. The gold standard, regional accreditation is awarded after a college and its programs are vetted by an established and independent third party. Each regional body visits and investigates the institutions within its purview for academic standards, faculty experience, resource availability and overall guiding principles.

    Learn more about regional accreditation. Schools with national accreditation often concentrate on less academic disciplines, including vocational, trade and career-focused programs and courses. This often means a vetting process with less emphasis on core academics liberal arts and more on the ability to train students in tactile skills. Learn more about national accreditation. Programmatic accreditation is reserved for degree programs that focus on a specific subject. Learn more about specialized accreditation. The sheer volume of schools with online programs makes it easier for students to find distance-learning opportunities.

    NPR Choice page

    However, it also makes it easier to find poor ones. When vetting online schools, selecting one with the right accreditation is absolutely critical. Learn how this educational stamp-of-approval impacts credit transfers, degree acceptance and, most importantly, employability. This site is not affiliated with or endorsed by the U. Department of Education. The content or any information posted on this site does not reflect the view of the U.