Sunday, November 25, 2012

Are correspondence schools really worth the cost?

College, university, or tech school, there is a push in our society for higher education to increase our income and earning power. Unfortunately, along with this ability to earn more, comes unscrupulous companies that claim to provide higher education at a low cost, all from the comfort of your own living room. So, how do you tell the difference between higher education institutions that you can count on for accredited educational opportunities, and those that have sought accreditation but care little for whether or not their students are successful?

It isn't easy. In fact, accreditation itself can be a somewhat sketchy minefield to traverse. First off, the accreditation that is done to post secondary educational institutions is relatively limited in scope. The U.S. Department of Education and the Secretary of Education, currently Arne Duncan, publish a list of accreditation-granting agencies within the United States. The Department of Education does not grant these accreditations to colleges. Instead, accrediting agencies award accreditations. Who are they? Many are associations composed of the schools themselves, banding together to form a set curriculum and standards that are used as a benchmark for all the schools in the association to follow. 

Schools that fall outside that benchmark don’t receive accreditation. While this is a relatively simple matter on paper, it is far more complicated when factoring in the consideration that it is the schools themselves that are giving out the accreditation.

There has been a long standing concern that mail-order education simply doesn’t measure up when compared to traditional brick-and-mortar schooling. In the first place, students aren’t held to specific ethical standards when it comes to testing. For at-home schooling, every test is an open book test. Additionally, there is a lack of personal interaction between the student and the professor that can make the difference between understanding a topic and simply regurgitating information.

Further problems with the at-home college education is the fact that many employers don’t see these schools as being viable alternatives to the schools that their top executives might have attended. At best, they might see that master’s degree as being a low-class alternative to the schools that they think of as being “real” schools. That being the case, does that mean that there are no situations in which home schooling for college classes is effective and can increase your earning power? Not necessarily.

Today’s colleges are beginning to see the benefit to hosting web-based and study-at-home courses, particularly when it comes to busy adults squeezing in time for advanced education between work and the kid’s soccer practice. Check with your local community college to see whether web courses are offered in the subject that you’re interested in taking, and whether those courses can be used as credit toward a full bachelor’s or master’s degree. What you may not want is a series of classes that are simply extension courses - intended only to provide information rather than a foundation on which you can build. 

Educational opportunities, like anything, should be taken with a grain of salt. Sure, a community college is going to be more expensive than what many of the mail-order schools are, but what you get in return is far more valuable, particularly if the credits you earn from that school can be transferred. There is much to take into consideration, but if you really aren’t sure, but are ready to make the commitment, you can do worse than ask your company’s human resources department how far each of those choices can take you.

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