Home Online Education Access and Affordability Response to an Article in Consumers’ Digest

Response to an Article in Consumers’ Digest

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There are very good reasons why more than 620,000 students are currently enrolled with regionally accredited online higher education institutions: their high-quality bachelor’s and master’s degree programs are affordable, convenient, and lead to both personal and professional enrichment. Some of the best universities leverage the power of the internet to help advance students’ knowledge, critical thinking skills and exposure to diverse ideas and people required for success in today’s complex, digitally-connected world.

It is unfortunate that in her article, “Degrees of Difficulty: The Truth About Online Universities” (March/April 2009), Catherine Elton largely overlooks these benefits in her examination of the alleged student recruiting practices of a few online institutions. While some institutions may be overly aggressive in attracting new students – and, it is helpful to highlight practices that should be of concern to consumers – I do not believe it is fair to characterize most online or for-profit institutions that way; and it certainly does not speak to the academic quality they offer.

As a matter of policy at American Public University System and, I believe, at most other institutions, we communicate information about our programs and strengths honestly and without exerting any pressure on prospective students. In our case, we also combine that approach with a commitment to ensuring our programs are as accessible as possible by keeping tuition affordable (APUS has not raised undergraduate tuition for eight years), and a promise to focus on the needs of our students, first and foremost.

We are passionate about improving the quality of our online programs and are charter members of the Transparency by Design initiative as well as members of the Higher Learning Commission’s Academy for Assessment of Student Learning. While all of our programs are accredited by virtue of our institutional accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission and the Distance Education and Training Council, we have begun the process of receiving recognition of the quality of specific programs by seeking specialty accreditation when appropriate. In 2008, we received specialty accreditation by the Foundation for Higher Education for our Emergency and Disaster Management program (see my blog article from August 2008) and by the National Council on Family Relations for our Child and Family Development Program (see my blog article from August 2008). We are currently in candidacy status for specialty accreditation of our business programs through the Association of Collegiate Business Schools and Programs. Not all degree programs have specialty accreditors and some, like the American Bar Association, refuse to evaluate online programs.

In 2008, APUS participated in the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) which is administered by the Center for Postsecondary Research at Indiana University to students studying at more than 800 colleges and universities. One of the responses from the APUS students surveyed indicated that they have an extremely favorable view of our online learning system and more than 97% of seniors at APUS said that they would attend our institution again.

High-pressure marketing and sales tactics in any situation – but especially one as important and life-changing as a college degree program – are unconscionable. That said, prospective students of any higher education institution, including accredited, online universities, are advised to fully research and compare program options, quality and track records before making an enrollment decision. Enrolling in an online institution (whether it be for profit or non-profit) could be the best decision of one’s life. The access and affordability of online institutions provide many people the opportunity to learn and obtain a degree that they may not normally have the opportunity to do so in a traditional setting. I hope the lengthy article on admissions practices does not serve to dissuade those who truly can benefit from this extraordinary access to knowledge and advanced education available in our country.

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Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in 2002. In July 2016, he retired as APUS president and continued as CEO of APEI. In September 2017, he was reappointed APUS president after the resignation of Dr. Karan Powell. In September 2019, Angela Selden was named CEO of APEI, succeeding Dr. Boston who will remain APUS president until his planned retirement in June 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. During his tenure, APUS grew to over 100,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 90,000 alumni. In addition to his service as a board member of APUS and APEI, Dr. Boston is a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), a member of the Board of Overseers of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, a board member of the Presidents’ Forum, and a board member of Hondros College of Nursing and Fidelis, Inc. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus.

Comment(2)

  1. Wally:

    Excellent response! I did not read the Consumer’s Digest article, but your response makes me want to do just that. I believe you answered well for all of the value-added online institutions who were unfortunately thrown in the basket with all others who may not be so conscientious. Thanks for opening their eyes!

  2. Mr. Boston:

    My significant other recently began attending your online school. APU employees did not use high pressure tactics to recruit him. In fact, there was no pressure at all. They presented the information to him and kept him updated with emails about his options and the steps he would need to take if he wanted to enroll. He took his time reviewing his options, then decided that APU was the best choice for him. As an educator, I appreciate APU’s approach to enrollment that reflects integrity and respect for your potential students. Keep up the good work!

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