A Poor Choice Can Be Costly
The growth of eLearning has exploded. More students than ever before earn entire degrees online. But have they made the right choice? Most people really don’t know how to assess eLearning programs. It is easy to choose the wrong program.
As someone who manages and teaches in an online graduate program I probably have some insight that most people don’t. Before you spend a lot of time and money at the wrong school, you should consider these issues.
Your Career Goals
What are your career goals? Does the program help you to meet them? Will it help you get a job or a promotion? Identify the type of job you want to have five years from now. Through your network (or through LinkedIn) find people that are doing this job. How did they get there? Does anybody have a degree from the school you are investigating? Ask employers if they hire candidates from that school.
Is the college or university accredited? Hopefully, it is accreditation by one the major six regional accreditation associations. Sorry, but these are the only ones that really count in my opinion. I had to deny admission to a young lady who graduated from a school that was accredited by the Association for Biblical Higher Education. She tearfully told me “they said they were accredited”. Unfortunately for her they were accredited, but it wasn’t the type of accreditation that really counts. Additionally, accreditation is awarded to the university overall and not to an individual program in most cases.
The reputation of the institution and the program is very important and can cut across many areas. For example, what do alumni say about the program? Do employers hire their graduates? What do people say about the faculty? Today with LinkedIn it is fairly easy to find people who maybe graduates of a particular college. Additionally, if an organization is hiring you can ask them if they have a history of hiring graduates from particular schools.
Program Design and Format
The format and design of the program can differ greatly in online programs. As a learner you will be spending a lot of time and money, so you want to make sure the program is a “fit” for you. Does it have synchronous, asynchronous or blended course delivery? What are the course deliverables for students? Do yjur ise pares and academic case studies, or more applied projects. I think project work has many advantages over tests and papers. Do they require a comprehensive exam or portfolio of work samples? In my opinion professional portfolios are the way to go. They can demonstrate your skills and competencies to potential employers.
Student and Career Services
If you are an adult student you probably are very interested in getting a job. Does the college have career services oriented toward working adult students? Do they have connections with employers and professional associations? Who hires their graduates? Can you actually talk to student service reps on the phone, or do they push you to search online for everything? Do they have so many students that they cannot prove adequate service?
Can you start the program and/or graduate in any semester? Or do they only accept new students in the Fall semester? Do they allow you to take any electives, or is it a lock-step program with little choice? What is their policy concerning transfer of credits?
I’ve posed a lot of questions. You can find answers to most of them by talking to current students, alumni and employers. Additionally, you can find a number of answers on the college website and using LinkedIn. Of course don’t forget the obvious. You can simply call and ask them. In the end, it is worth the time and effort to research potential schools and programs. Make the right choice. Your career may depend on it.