How to find online schools that aren’t a scam

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Are you enrolled in an online school? The scandals with for-profit online colleges like University of Phoenix points to a greater problem in higher education — the easy availability of student loans and the ease with which online schools can capitalize on them by enrolling students willing to take on debt.

Read on to find out how to ensure you’re with a legitimate online school that doesn’t just want you to go into debt to pad its pockets!

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There are several methods to vet an online school

Education is the key to climbing the economic ladder in life. But you’ve got to be careful which schools you choose to attend. Sometimes those that advertise heavily may not have your best financial interests in mind.

Case in point: The University of Phoenix. University of Phoenix was once the most innovative leader in the distance learning arena. But recently the school has been buried under a black cloud and was put on probation for its recruitment tactics on military bases. (That probation has since been reversed, though the school is subject to ‘heightened compliance review.’)

The school allegedly lost its moral compass and started signing up students who shouldn’t have been in its programs. Why? Because doing so meant more student loan money for them.

Did you know there are scholarships exclusively for online students? Here’s an up-to-date list.

To find a good online school, there are a few resources you can turn to. First, you should vet any school you’re considering attending with the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). They have links to state information on institutions that are licensed or authorized to operate. 

Separately, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (now branded as the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation) maintains its own list of accredited schools.

Finally, the U.S. Department of Education also has a user-friendly search engine of accredited schools that’s very much worth checking out.

Checking to see that an online school you’re considering is accredited is a solid way to do some preliminary vetting. Beyond that, CHEA says you should ask the following questions to ferret out the good schools from the bad.


If you can answer ‘yes’ to many of these questions, there’s reason to be suspicious…

Questions to ask of an online school before signing on the dotted line

  • Can degrees be purchased?
  • Is there a claim of accreditation when there is no evidence of this status?
  • Is there a claim of accreditation from a questionable accrediting organization?
  • Does the operation lack state or federal licensure or authority to operate?
  • Is little if any attendance required of students, either online or in class?
  • Are few assignments required for students to earn credits?
  • Is a very short period of time required to earn a degree?
  • Are degrees available based solely on experience or resume review?
  • Are there few requirements for graduation?
  • Does the operation fail to provide any information about a campus or business location or address and rely, e.g., only on a post office box?
  • Does the operation fail to provide a list of its faculty and their qualifications?
  • Does the operation have a name similar to other well-known colleges and universities?
  • Does the operation make claims in its publications for which there is no evidence?

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