How To Find Accredited Online Degree Programs
by Sunnie (Leslie Bowman)
On June 9, 2001 (my 25th wedding anniversary weekend) I graduated from California State University-Hayward with a Master of Science in Education. What made this really different was that I had never set foot on campus and had never met any of my graduate school classmates or professors. Yet we know each other very well and continue to keep in touch.
In previous articles on distance learning, I have written about teaching and learning online and how it is nearly impossible to teach effectively online if one has not experienced online learning as a student. I have also written about the advantages and disadvantages of online learning. Now it is time to find out how to locate distance learning degree programs. This is not an article as much as it is a compilation of resources on distance learning and accredited degree programs. So, how do you go about finding an accredited online degree program?
The first thing is to make sure you understand accreditation. Here is a good resource that explains accreditation and also lists the major accrediting agencies that are recognized by the US Department of Education:
For evaluating schools, here is a resource for who and what to ask:
For those who wish to be extra-cautious, here is the official US Department of Education website for comparison of information:
Locating Degree Programs
There are so many databases for finding online degree programs that it would be impossible to list them all. The ones I use most frequently are those that have the highest percentage of accredited schools in their listings. Even then, though, you need to look for accreditation information and make some calls or send some emails to confirm. When looking for online degrees, there are several questions to be considered for every school website you visit:
- Is the school accredited?
- How much is tuition?
- What degrees are offered?
- What majors are offered?
- How long does it take to complete the degree with part time study?
- Is residency (on-campus study) required?
Notice I mentioned tuition as the second question. Some online degrees are outrageously expensive. Some charge out-of-state tuition and this I do not understand. The whole premise of distance learning is that you can live anywhere and go to college. Those colleges that charge out-of-state tuition for distance learning courses are pricing themselves right out of the market. I guess they haven't quite caught on yet to the true meaning of distance learning!
Here are the databases I use for online degree searches:
Find Your Online Graduate School
Graduate Degrees at a Distance
For international distance learning institutions (in these, course and programme are synonymous):
Doctoral Degrees Via Distance Learning
I have had many emails lately concerning doctoral programs via distance learning. The good news is that there are many options for doctoral programs. The bad news is that every single distance learning doctoral program requires at least one and usually more residencies (on-campus study) every year. These residencies last from four days to two weeks and a few require distance learning doctoral candidates to spend one entire summer in residence on campus. These residencies are required in order to maintain accreditation status and the requirements are quite different among the six regional accreditation agencies. There are a few schools that get around this by scheduling weekend residencies several times a year that are offered in major cities around the country. Some universities accomplish this requirement by scheduling local student study group meetings. This means less travel is involved but students still must complete the face-to-face study requirements.
I am considering two Ph.D. programs. The process has been long and involved and I am currently in communication with both universities on a weekly basis. There are many questions that will come up during the information-gathering process and I would recommend emailing as often as necessary to get those questions answered before plunking down the nonrefundable application fee. Both universities require on-campus residencies of four to ten days twice a year. As one university is in CA and the other in the UK, I am attempting to negotiate alternate study and/or local internships in place of residencies. To date, I have no definitive answer from either school, but it will be interesting to see if there is some degree of flexibility in these requirements.
Here are the best websites (there is some duplication on these) that I have used for distance learning doctorate programs:
General Guidelines For Distance Learners:
Consumer's Guide to Choosing College Courses on the Internet
The OnlineLearning.net Self-Assessment Quiz
And the most extensive resource of all (I use this for orientation with my online students): Distance Education at a Glance
Are You Ready For Distance Learning?
The main reason people enroll in distance learning degree programs is obviously convenience. I cannot argue with that. I was able to work whenever it suited me but sometimes it was just flat out hard to get going on what needed to be done. The closest I came to missing a due date was one time when we went out of town unexpectedly on a weekend, my paper was due on Monday and I had planned to do my writing over the weekend. I had procrastinated for the first and last time -- staying up all night Sunday night cured me of that (I'm getting too old for that!). Classmates help each other when the going gets tough. Classmates are in constant contact via discussion forums and IM so it's easy to ask "Hey did you finish the Unit 2 paper yet?" and that is a reminder that it is time to get busy on that paper.
Distance learning is NOT easier than traditional in-class learning so don't let that be your motivation for seeking a distance learning degree program. As a matter of fact, students usually end up spending more time working that they would in a f2f class. But I figure it evens out in the long run. I'm not spending those 5-10 hours a week driving to and from and sitting in class so I can afford to put that extra time into my work. I learned more through distance learning than I have ever learned listening to any lecture. Everyone in the class contributes experiences and knowledge and that equates into a whole lot more than any professor can accomplish in a f2f class once a week.
I guess that, for me, the best thing about online classes is that learning is fun. Classmates get to know each other through discussions and we learn so much about and from each other. Anytime anyone has a problem, there is always someone there to help. Actually online classes remind me a lot of the Teachers.net chatboards in that there are discussions going all the time. There is always someone with whom to learn through sharing experiences and support.
Degrees And Transcripts
One final and important point about distance learning degrees must be made and understood. Your degree and your transcript will list the institution, degree earned, date, and courses (on the transcript). NOTHING ANYWHERE WILL STATE THE WORDS DISTANCE LEARNING. Someone in the chatroom recently said that personnel in their school district received a memo stating that online learning would not count toward salary raises. I don't remember all the details but my question was "Just exactly how would they know you took the courses online?" Now my degree does say California State University-Hayward and it's quite obvious to anyone who knows me that I did NOT commute back and forth to CSUH to sit in any classes. The bottom line is that if the courses are from an accredited university, then how can any school system legally refuse you the same salary raise given to your colleague who obtained the same degree by sitting in class?
People often do not want anyone to know their graduate degree was earned online. I am not real sure why this is except that there are many myths and misconceptions surrounding distance learning. Personally I think it's fun to see the reactions when I tell someone I never attended a single class. The next question is always "Is that a REAL degree?" That's when I laugh. And so another student begins an online degree...
Anytime you have questions about distance learning, specific colleges/universities, or just want to find a free course on technology skills or a hobby you just started -- send me an email and I'll do my best to find some good resources for you.