6 Key Online College Selection Factors
Online colleges and universities have seen an unprecedented spike in enrollment in recent years. According to a study by The Sloan Consortium, 6.7 million students are taking at least one online course as of the fall 2011 term — a considerable spike of 570,000 more online students from the prior year. With more and more students looking to online programs to pursue their education needs, the selection factors are becoming more specific. Here are a few key factors prospective students use to determine in which program to enroll.
Accreditation is like a stamp of approval for higher education institutions. This distinction tells prospective students that the school or degree program in question has been proven to meet certain academic standards. Accreditation is also usually a good indicator that most graduates of the program leave being prepared to enter the workforce.
Most colleges will indicate their accreditation status on their websites. Students should be diligent in researching the accrediting organization to make sure the credentials are legitimate.
Before enrolling in an online program, students should check the curriculum and college credit compatibility with other institutions. This information is important for students who anticipate transferring credits before graduation, or who have credits to transfer in from other universities. The last thing you’ll want is to find yourself three semesters into your schooling before finding out your credits won’t transfer completely to or from another university. Many schools also accept non-traditional credits earned from professional experience, military training, and national testing programs.
Rates and Statistics
When prospective students shop around looking for the perfect online university, certain numbers should jump out at them. Graduation rates, average student loan debt, and specifically student loan default rates speak volumes about a school’s effectiveness. Low graduation rates likely show that the program in question has a weak academic support network for students or that students are dissatisfied somehow.
Student retention rates, post-graduation employment status, and loan default rates quickly separate the bad apples from the golden ones. These items are important, as only about a total of 59 percent of students seeking a bachelor’s degree earn it within six years at their institution of choice.
Students want to know that employers are willing to acknowledge their chosen university. Students can look into the university’s reputation by asking enrollment staff to share feedback from employers who have hired graduates of the school. This feedback can come in the form of surveys, placement statistics, and personal communication. Another great way to gauge a university’s reputation is to see what current and former students say on social networks.
Just because you’re looking into online degrees, you’ll still want the help of academic and financial advisors throughout your student life and beyond. Prospective students should ask themselves whether the school they are considering is able and willing to offer the support services they need to succeed academically.
Look for career service resources, library services, and a writing center among other student services. Knowing there is a community of support committed to helping you succeed can make a huge difference, especially since being online can sometimes seem so anonymous.
When selecting an online college, it’s important to understand what will be required to complete your coursework for your preferred program. For instance, traditional college courses can be offered online, and are led by instructors, which requires students to attend at set times, while other schools offer courses that are asynchronous so your schedule can be more flexible.
You may prefer competency-based programs that allow students to study and learn the material at their own pace. The university provides the necessary resources, and students simply advance through the coursework as they progressively show that they’ve mastered the material.
Furthermore, some programs combine online and traditional programs, which allow students to attend lectures online and in person, adding to the flexibility factor. Students should look at the details of the program to see which type it falls into. That way, they’ll know up front what level of time commitment will be required of them to graduate.
This list touches on some of the most influential factors students use to decide in which school to enroll. What are some of your most important selection factors? If you have experience attending one of America’s top online universities, please share any advice you may have in the comments below.