Interested In Getting a Distance Learning Degree? Check Our Tips and Avoid Schools That Are Distance Learning Scams: Internet ScamBusters #252
Many people are interested in distance education -- attending college around your busy schedule by way of the Internet. And as you might imagine, there are a LOT of distance learning scams.
Many reputable schools offer real distance learning degrees, but others are quite simply scams -- diploma mills where the main qualification for your degree is your signature at the bottom of a check.
Some of these scams are obvious -- "Send us your check and get a piece of paper." But others are so complex even the students are fooled!
Today we'll give you some tips to help you separate the legitimate schools from those that are distance learning scams.
On to today's main topic...
Old School Standards - How To Spot a Distance Learning Scam
You've probably seen an ad like this:
University Degree in 27 Days!
Bachelor's, Master's, Doctorate
Legal, legitimate, and fully accredited.
School rings available.
This ad was published for Columbia State University (sounds very much like the prestigious university in New York, doesn't it?).
While 27 days for a degree might raise suspicions, the ad ran in reputable publications like The Economist, Time, Newsweek, Forbes, Money, Business Week, Investors Business Daily, and USA Today.
Columbia granted degrees for "life experience" and many sincere and educated students were convinced its credentials were real.
However, this Columbia -- located in Louisiana, not New York -- was shut down by the FBI in 1998 as a distance learning scam.
A distance learning scam happens when your money is used largely to purchase a piece of paper, rather than an educational experience.
The worst of these scams simply sell fake diplomas and transcripts for a fee of $1000 or more.
Others range from those that grant degrees solely based on "life experience" to unaccredited programs that include coursework, tests and teacher feedback.
In all cases, the school's accreditation is the key to whether it is a scam or not. Is the school's program recognized by a legitimate third party accrediting agency as a true learning experience? Will other schools recognize and accept transfer credits from this school? Will the government and other employers accept the credential?
If not, going through this school's "coursework," if any exists, amounts to an exercise in futility.
How do "schools" that are just distance learning scams fool people?
Distance learning scams can seem like legitimate programs for various reasons. Many of these schools invest heavily in their marketing, taking out expensive ads and creating slick websites that show university buildings and students, when the "school" is actually run out of the owner's basement.
They borrow names from legitimate schools, like Columbia, LaSalle or Loyola, to confuse both students as well as their potential employers.
They may claim to be accredited, but the accrediting agencies themselves can turn out to be bogus, often created by the same person who runs the school!
When LaSalle University in Louisiana was shut down by an FBI raid in 1996, agents learned the "school" had only one faculty member for its more than 15,000 students. The employee told agents no one actually read the life experience essays submitted by students. They were just given a degree based on the length of their resumes.
Students considering a distance learning program can save themselves headaches by recognizing the red flags marking a distance learning scam.
Question a school as a potential distance learning scam when:
- Tuition is charged on a per-degree basis, rather than per credit, course, or semester.
- There are few or unspecified degree requirements, or none at all.
- The emphasis is on degrees for work or life experience.
- The school is relatively new, or has recently changed its name.
- The school is not accredited or is accredited, but not by an agency recognized by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation.
- Admission criteria consist entirely of possession of valid Visa or MasterCard. Previous academic record, grade point average, and test scores are irrelevant.
- You are promised a diploma within 30 days of application regardless of your status upon entry.
- The school's website either lists no faculty or lists faculty, many of whom received their "degrees" from the school itself or from schools accredited by agencies not recognized as legitimate.
Can you really get legitimate credit for life experience?
Many real universities, including many large and reputable schools, also offer online programs and credit for life experience. The difference is their distance learning programs are conducted under the close supervision of faculty members.
Legitimate life experience evaluations are done very carefully, offering credit equivalents only after a lengthy interview process and/or extensive testing.
There is no legitimate program we know of that offers a degree for life experience alone.
If you believe a distance learning program might be a scam, the Oregon Student Assistance Commission's Office of Degree Authorization maintains a list of legitimate programs and accreditation agencies for comparison.
Another way to check up on a school is to call the registrar of a local college and ask if it would accept transfer credits from the school you are researching. If not, there's no reason to believe the distance learning school's "degree" has any value.
By following these simple tips, it's easy for you to avoid distance learning scams.
Time to close -- we're off to take a walk. See you next week.