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.