Online education programs must be accredited by the appropriate institution or agency in order to be able to provide a valid certificate or degree to enrolled students.
Like traditional education courses taught in person, both the educational provider and the course itself should be accredited by the necessary bodies. Accreditation is the evaluation process used to assure that an educational program meets generally accepted standards of academic rigor, student achievement and integrity.
Agencies and groups that provide accreditation are respected in their industries and seen as playing an important in maintaining a high quality of education across the board.
It is extremely important that students who are considering enrolling in an online education program check the program’s accreditation before signing up. Because of the nature of web-based education, it can be easier for fraudulent for-profit companies to trick students into paying tuition for sub-par education that does not result in a promised certificate or degree.
Luckily, accrediting agencies welcome inquiries about educational institutions qualified through their program. Employers and other interested parties also use accreditation to make sure that a student’s training is up to industry standards, no matter where they graduate from. Read on to learn more important information about accreditation of online education programs.
What is accreditation for online education programs?
In most cases, accreditation for educational programs is provided by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), regulatory agencies and other not-for-profit institutions. State and federal government agencies oversee the accreditation process and aim for equal and fair enforcement of applicable educational standards to all educational programs but do not offer their own accreditation. Some states do offer various types of licensure for valid programs.
Students who plan on gaining a qualifying degree or certificate in order to meet professional or academic goals are particularly encouraged to check the accreditation of the course and online education provider they may be enrolling with.
Most potential students begin by looking into the institutional accreditation of the course provider to make sure they will be receiving the qualification they expect. Interested students can check the accreditation details of an education institution by confirming its validation online with an agency registered with the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education.
Students can also look into industry-specific accrediting institutions that oversee the qualification of specific industries and academic programs, like the American Bar Association (ABA) which accredits law schools and programs around the U.S.
Some online education programs are better than others, so all students should do their due diligence by researching multiple programs in their field to find the right one for their needs. By looking into a school’s and program’s accreditation, students can avoid enrolling in a low-quality or even fraudulent education program.
Online courses offered by big name universities can usually be trusted, but courses offered by institutions or groups that the student has never heard of should be researched carefully. Even if the student knows a few people who have recently signed up for the program, talking to alumni of the school to learn about the actual worth of getting a qualification from there can be even more helpful.
Checking the Accreditation of an Online Education Program
There are a few different ways students can learn more about an online education program’s accreditation. The first thing students should check is whether the school and program claim to be accredited on their website.
Once you see where the course and institution are supposed to be accredited, you can check the accrediting agency’s general listing of programs and schools to confirm their validation. If there is a discrepancy between the accreditation that the school claims to have and what you can confirm with the accreditation agency, there is a problem and it may be best to find another program.
Students applying for financial aid from state or national governmental agencies will only qualify if using the funds for courses at an accredited school.
Students are encouraged to check the institutional accreditation of the provider of the online education course at both the national and regional levels. Either type of accreditation can signify that a program is worth the student’s time, but nationally accredited schools are more likely to be accepted by a wider range of employers and institution of further education than regionally-accredited programs.
In some areas and for some industries, however, regional accreditation is seen as having more rigorous standards than national accreditation processes and therefore as preferable by regional employers. Students who need to transfer credits between universities must ensure that both of the programs they are participating in are accredited by the same validating agencies.
Students should also note that the term “international accreditation” has no real status in terms of program validation processes. Education programs can hold multiple individual accreditations from different countries, but no single global accreditation process currently exists. Students looking at programs claiming to be internationally accredited should be carefully examined before signing up.
How to Spot a Fake Online Education Program
Tens of thousands of students around the world have fallen prey to fake online school scams that cost great sums of cash and offer little to nothing in the form of returns. When online education programs were just starting out, accreditation systems took some time to catch up to the new form of education popping up in industry after industry. As a result, many students were convinced to enroll in low quality or even nonexistent programs with little road to recourse once begun.
When it comes to online education programs, a little background research can go a long way to avoid getting taken advantage of by an online course scam.
Identifying a fraudulent or low-quality online education program is not impossible. Schools or programs which have names that are extremely similar to famous universities or education institutes are most likely trying to take advantage of students’ familiarity with the other school’s brand while hiding its own educational track record. This is a red flag for potential students.
The now defunct web-based Trump University, for example, used the President’s name as a brand to get students to sign up for business courses that ultimately did not deliver on many of the important training promises made. Former students have since sued the organization to recuperate their losses.
Before signing up for a web-based course, student should check the institution’s and the course’s accreditation credentials with the validating agency. Looking at where the school claims to be accredited on its website is not enough.
Students looking at online education programs that have been accredited by governments or organizations based outside the U.S. should check the program’s regional and international qualifications. Many programs are accredited by multiple countries. The U.S. Council of Higher Education also maintains a directory on international schools that are up to American standards.
To make the right choice about an online education programs, students should carefully consider what they hope to take away from the course. If they want a certificate or degree that can be used to qualify them for further roles or studies after completion, students must make sure that their program have the necessary accreditation. This is also required for most financial aid applications.
Students looking to learn more general knowledge and who are not concerned with receiving a qualification can be less rigid in their search for an appropriate program.