Research before applying for that online degree
July 30, 2014

Dear Action Line,

I have wanted to get a college degree for many years, and I feel now is my chance to achieve this goal. Since I am limited on time, I am looking for an online university where I can get a degree in the shortest amount of time. I have searched online looking for the best option, but have found mostly questionable websites. Before I look any further what should I be aware of before choosing an online university?

Dear Reader,     

Working towards a college degree is an important commitment, so choose wisely where you invest your time, energy and money.

As you have encountered, there are many fraudulent websites that claim to offer various certificate and degree programs. Some of these websites will claim to maintain accreditation with fictitious organizations or hijack legitimate names.

You can go online to check if a school is accredited by a legitimate organization at the database of accredited academic institutions posted by the U.S. Department of Education at www.ope.ed.gov/accreditation or at the Council for Higher Education Accreditation database at www.chea.org/search. (There are a few legitimate institutions that have not pursued accreditation.) 

Before enrolling in an online university or other for-profit college, look out for the following red flags:

No Studies, No Exams - "Get a Degree for Your Experience." Diploma mills grant degrees for "work or life experience" alone. Accredited colleges may give a few credits for specific experience pertinent to a degree program, but not an entire degree.  

No Attendance. Legitimate colleges or universities, including online schools, require substantial course work. 

Flat Fee. Many diploma mills charge a flat fee for an entire degree. Legitimate colleges charge by the credit, course or semester. 

Universal Guarantee of Credit Transfer. By the unique nature of a specialized degree, it is impossible for an institution to provide a blanket guarantee that credits will transfer to every institution or program.  

No Waiting. Operations that guarantee a degree in a few days, weeks, or even months aren't legitimate. If an ad promises that you can earn a degree very quickly, it's probably a diploma mill. 

Click Here To Order Now! Some diploma mills push themselves through aggressive sales tactics. Accredited colleges don't use spam or high-pressure telemarketing to market themselves. Some diploma mills also advertise in newspapers, magazines, and on the Web. 

Advertising through spam or pop-ups. If the school caught your attention through an unsolicited email or pop-up ad, it may be a diploma mill. Legitimate institutions, including distance learning programs, won't advertise through spam or pop-ups.

It is possible to further your education online through an accredited program. However, carefully research a prospective college's credentials and don’t forget to check with your BBB. Visit www.bbb.org/central-california to check out a business, receive consumer tips, stay up-to-date on local scams, and more.    

Action Line is written by Blair Looney, president and CEO for the Better Business Bureau serving Central California and Inland Empire Counties. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 4201 W. Shaw Ave., Suite 107, Fresno, CA 93722 or info@cencal.bbb.org.