More Information on Accredited Online Colleges and Universities

Will your online degree be valuable to employers? Will credits from your online courses transfer to another school? Will your chosen online program offer a meaningful educational experience? This issue of college accreditation is central to answering all of these questions. Our website provides a basic guide to accreditation and accredited online colleges. You’ll find all you need to make informed decisions about your online education.

After reading our FAQ about accreditation, you’ll find answers to general questions about attending accredited online colleges too. Learn about the application process, online college tuition, the financial aid available, degree options, and more.

FAQ about accreditation

What does “accredited” mean?

If an online college is accredited, then a non-profit agency approved by the US government has concluded that it meets certain standards of education.

Attending a school with accredited status brings important advantages: other accredited institutions of learning will consider accepting your credits and degrees, and employers will be more likely to believe that the degree you’ve been awarded adequately prepared you for professional practice.

How do schools become accredited?

Non-profit accrediting agencies put traditional campuses and online colleges through a peer-review process. This involves faculty members assessing the publications and research of their colleagues at other institutions.

Other factors considered in the process include additional measures of faculty quality as well as the school’s goals, resources, admission requirements, course offerings, and student support services.

What is a diploma mill?

Unfortunately, the education sector is not free of corruption. Some online schools offer degrees that are essentially meaningless: other schools will not consider their credits, and employers will not take their degrees seriously. Such schools are called diploma mills. Their commitment is not to education but to quick profit.

To avoid falling victim to a diploma mill, simply ensure that the school you enroll in is accredited by an appropriate agency.

How many colleges and universities are accredited?

The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) database includes more than 7,700 accredited institutions. These offer a combined total of nearly 19,000 degree-granting and non-degree-granting programs! With just a bit of research, it’s easy to avoid a diploma mill and find the ideal program for your online college needs.

How can I ensure that an online college or university is accredited by a reputable agency?

Almost every school is accredited by some agency, but not every agency is meaningful. To avoid confusion, simply check the U.S. Department of Education’s database of accredited colleges and universities. You can also search the database maintained by CHEA, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. These only include schools that have been approved by CHEA-affiliated agencies.

Which accrediting agencies for online colleges are legitimate?

The CHEA list of acceptable accrediting agencies includes dozens of organizations. They fall into four categories: regional, faith-based, career-related, and programmatic.

Most traditional schools are advertised primarily as being accredited by a regional agency. Online colleges may also be accredited regionally and/or by the Distance Education and Training Council.

Additionally, career-related and programmatic accreditations may be given to specific degrees, departments, or colleges. These accreditations may be important when a student seeks licensure or employment. They tell a network of professionals that the graduate has had a certain type of training.

FAQ about accredited online colleges

Are accredited online colleges respected?

Online education has become accepted by much of mainstream America. Many long-established traditional campuses now offer accredited online degrees. These include institutions such as Ivy League campuses, state universities, and community colleges. Some schools, such as the University of Maryland, even require their on-campus students to enroll in a number of online courses.

Often these schools do not distinguish between their online and on-campus degree programs when issuing diplomas. This means that an employer won’t necessarily know if you earned your MBA online or in a classroom.

Online-only schools are now available too. Like traditional schools, they vary in quality and reputation. To guide your decision-making, talk with your employer or a career counselor. Find out which online colleges are respected among people you’d like to work with.

Which degrees are available through online colleges?

Online schools offer the same degrees as traditional community colleges, colleges, and universities. Students can earn an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, a master’s, or a doctorate. Non-degree certificate options are also available.

Nowadays, it’s possible to study almost every college subject online. Business and education are two popular options. Programs in the following categories are also plentiful:

  • Criminal justice
  • Engineering
  • Graphic design
  • Healthcare
  • Law
  • Liberal arts
  • Social sciences
  • Technology

Of course, adequate preparation for some professions requires face-to-face interaction and long hours in laboratories, studios, or other learning settings. Programs that combine online learning with other learning formats are referred to as hybrid or blended programs.

When does the online school year begin?

Many online schools follow the traditional semester patterns (fall semester, spring semester, and summer semester). However, an advantage of some online schools is their year-round scheduling. It’s possible to start online learning at any time of year.

How do I apply to an online college?

Most online colleges prefer that applicants apply online. If you are given the option to apply online or through the mail, apply online if possible. This will help demonstrate that you are comfortable using the computer.

Some online applications are more rigorous than others. If the school is not at all competitive, you might simply provide personal information in order to enroll. In most cases though, you’ll need to provide: letters of recommendation; personal essays; standardized test scores; and transcripts from high school and college, if applicable. If you are applying to a program in the arts, you’ll probably need to submit a portfolio of your creative work or audition on campus.

The application process for competitive schools requires many hours of thoughtful work. It’s recommended that people apply to at least five schools – including a safety school, a dream school, and some reasonable possibilities — and it’s important that they spend time writing and revising responses to the essay questions on each school’s application.

Will I need special computer equipment to get a degree online?

Probably not. Most online degree programs simply require students to use computers with reasonably up-to-date processing speeds and a high-speed internet connection. If special software is needed to view lectures or interact with the classroom, it is usually available through a free download.

What types of learning formats do accredited online colleges offer?

Online degree programs use a variety of learning formats. Some programs are 100% online. This includes the application process, enrollment, listening to lectures, interacting with classmates, submitting homework, taking exams, and receiving grades.

However, many nominally 100% online programs require a bit of an on-campus presence. For example, some online programs require students to travel to campus to take proctored final exams or to defend their theses. They might also require an on-campus orientation, although most conduct their orientations online.

Many online college courses are advertised as hybrids. These use a mix of online learning and other formats, such as traveling to campus for face-to-face learning or meeting at an interactive television (ITV) center. Some online colleges establish numerous ITV sites across certain geographic regions. These let students and professors virtually interact but require less of a commute by distant students.

It’s also possible to combine traditional on-campus courses with online-only courses in the same degree program.

FAQ about paying for an online degree

How much will a degree from an accredited online college cost?

The cost of online education varies widely. Some traditional schools, such as the University of California at Davis, set their online prices lower than their on-campus prices. Still, many online degrees come with high price tags. Take the time to learn about financial aid and scholarship possibilities.

Don’t forget to reverse the question, too: How much money will an accredited online degree save me? By attending school online, you could save money on child care, meals, school clothes, and transportation.

What sorts of financial aid do accredited online colleges offer?

Since accredited online degree programs are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, students are eligible for the same financial aid they would receive at a brick and mortar school. This includes: employer tuition assistance; grants; interest-free student loans; loan forgiveness; military education benefits; and public and private scholarships.

Will my employer really pay my tuition?

Employers know that a better-educated workforce means better business. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, in 2003 the vast majority of large employers reported providing educational assistance to employees taking college classes. In many cases, they agreed to pay 80%-100% of their employees’ tuition as long as their courses of study were job-related. In return for their generosity, employers received tax credits and a more knowledgeable workforce.

Overall, it is worthwhile to investigate your options for employer tuition assistance with your human resources department. When inquiring about the possibilities, present your case in a professional manner. Explain how your studies would benefit the company. At the same time, be prepared for certain stipulations that could reduce the attractiveness of an arrangement. For example, employers can require employees to earn at least a “C” or else forfeit their tuition assistance. They can also demand tuition repayment if an employee leaves the company within a given time period after earning his or her degree.

Can I get a scholarship?

Scholarships are available to every kind of student, not just valedictorians. Search online or browse through a scholarship book in the reference section of your local library. Many scholarship-awarding committees are not concerned with your income or grades. You’ll find private scholarships awarded to people of your ethnicity and religion, people from your city or state, people who want to study certain subjects, and people who just write good essays. With enough time, you’ll find scholarships that suit you perfectly.

What is a grant?

A grant is money given for free. It doesn’t ever require repayment. Grants are given by the government, by schools, and by private organizations.

A popular grant is the Pell Grant, which is given to undergraduate students by the US government. It’s based solely on financial need. Students automatically find out if they are eligible for the Pell when they complete a FAFSA form. For the 2009-2010 academic year, the maximum Pell Grant is $5,350 plus $2,675 for the summer semester.

Whatever online career path you choose, chances are good that some professional group is offering a related grant. For example, the Texas Water Resources Institute awards grants to environmental engineers, and the American Psychological Association sponsors a number of grants for students pursuing psychology degrees.

What is loan forgiveness?

Some professions, such as nursing and education, are experiencing personnel shortages in certain regions of the United States. Competition for well-educated employees has led hospitals, schools, and other employers to pay the college debt of new hires. Such  agreements typically involve a contract stating that the employee will remain with the organization for at least a certain period of time.