Evaluating online degrees

We’ve addressed issues surrounding for-profit college scams in the past. There’s also the issue of rising college costs in general, and also the opportunities for self-education for free.

Here’s an excellent article that gives great advice on how to evaluate online courses and degrees. It’s important to use objective resources and guides.

You don’t mention whether you’ve already tried Googling, say, “online degree programs,” but, if so, you’ve no doubt been bombarded with advertising from for-profit schools. The University of Phoenix alone spends over $200 million a year on television and Internet pitches, according to an estimate from Madison Avenue trade paper Ad Age. Nothing wrong with advertising, of course, but in some respects it does make the process of choosing the right online school more difficult.

Here’s why: more than 7,000 U.S. colleges and universities now offer long-distance degree programs — and about 85% of those are traditional brick-and-mortar schools that have expanded into cyberspace over the past few years. Yet traditional colleges don’t have the marketing budgets that the huge for-profit schools have. So unless you actively seek out brick-and-mortar schools’ online offerings, you may never know they exist.

“Prospective students should be wary of Internet ‘guides’ to online education that get paid to promote for-profit schools,” says Vicky Phillips. “It’s called pay-per-lead advertising, and it means the ‘guide’ gets X dollars for each person it steers to a for-profit university.” Traditional colleges don’t have such deep pockets, so thousands of them are unlikely to turn up in such directories at all.

“Not only that, but the for-profit schools have tens of thousands of students, while the online bachelor’s-in-business program at a traditional university can only accept, say, 30 at a time,” she adds. “So even if traditional colleges could afford to pay for online leads, it wouldn’t make sense for them to do so. They’re operating on an entirely different scale.”

Phillips has been researching and comparing online degree programs for 20 years, which is about as long as they’ve existed. She runs a consumer-information web site called GetEducated.com that you might want to check out. The site includes a comparison tool that lets you evaluate and rank schools using 12 different filters. These include type of specialization in your major (business with a minor in finance, for instance); non-profit versus for-profit; secular versus religious (many Christian colleges now offer long-distance learning); and whether the school’s programs are 100% online or “hybrids,” meaning you’ll have to show up in person several times per semester.

There are tons of great options for online education, both free and those that require payments. You just have to do your research and find the solution that’s best for you. Just be careful of any program where you will end up with loads of college debt.

Some regulations on for-profit-colleges struck down

It was a pretty technical decision, but a court has struck down some of the regulations put in place by the Obama administration to regulation the for-profit-college industry. This is problematic as many of these colleges are loading up students with a ton of debt, while their degrees don’t get them a job. We’ve also seen some pretty shady practices in recruiting students to these schools. Unfortunately, there are far too many for-profit college scams out there.

This unfortunately tarnishes those colleges that provide good training for students. Hopefully the media attention will make students more selective, but the problem is that these schools are playing with our money, as the taxpayers help fund these student loans. We need more accountability and the court just made it more difficult.

New Rules are out for for-profit colleges

We’ve been highlighting some of the troubling news stories about for-profit college scams, and we’ve welcomed the notion of new rules governing the industry.

The new rules from the Obama administration are out, but they’ve been scaled back a bit from the initial proposed rules.

The Obama administration on Thursday issued a series of highly anticipated regulations aimed at cracking down on for-profit colleges and other career training programs that leave students saddled with unmanageable debts and contribute to an unequal share of federal student loan defaults.

The final rules issued by the Department of Education, however, are significantly less stringent than a draft version released last year, giving college programs an additional three years to come in line before possibly losing access to lucrative federal student aid dollars. The changes come after an unprecedented lobbying and campaign finance offensive over the past year by the for-profit college industry, which derives a vast majority of revenues from federal student loan and grant programs and has sought to protect that income by gaining influence in Washington.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the changes came after discussion with “lots and lots of different folks,” not just the industry, and he pointed out that the colleges were not unanimous in their suggestions for changes.

“What we really wanted to do was give people a chance to reform … this was not about ‘gotcha,’” Duncan said. “We tried to be very thoughtful, very reasonable and give people every opportunity to succeed, but be very clear where we wouldn’t permit ongoing failure.”

The intense lobbying campaign helped the industry, as the rules are weaker. You can check the article for the details. Lobbyist hacks like Lanny Davis did their job.

That said, this is a decent first step. It’s appropriate that the schools have a time frame to remedy problems, and this should help weed out the worst abuses.

Meanwhile, 10 states have opened a joint probe to look into the marketing practices of for-profit colleges, so we might yet see some interesting developments in this area.

The key here is you have to do your research before enrolling in one of these schools and taking on a mound of student debt.

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