Evaluating Online Degrees

Questions to ask yourself when evaluating online degree programs.

January 31, 2001
Here are some questions to ask yourself when evaluating online degree programs.
  1. Is the university accredited? Regional accreditation, which is provided by regional associations of schools and colleges (each named after the region in which it operates: Middle States, New England, North Central, Northwest, Southern, Western), means that a school has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, that the program is one of integrity, and that course units can be transferred from one campus to another.

  2. What is the reputation of the institution? Because it is too early to determine the reputation and effectiveness of specific online degree programs, you’ll want to consider the reputation of the institution offering the degree. “If the online program is from Duke University, you can bet Duke has invested a lot in it because the school is putting its reputation behind it,” says Thomas Russell, director emeritus, office of instructional telecommunications, North Carolina State University. 

  3. What outcomes can the degree-granting institution demonstrate? How does the institution evaluate whether or not students have acquired skills and knowledge? “The issue of assessment has been given a high priority by the regional accrediting agencies,” explains Claudine SchWeber, associate vice president, distance education and lifelong learning, University of Maryland University College. Consequently, more online degree programs should be able to demonstrate outcomes. 

  4. How does the institution support or promote interaction in the online environment? "Anybody who is serious about educating people online will understand the importance of interaction among students and among students and faculty,” SchWeber says. 

  5. What are the faculty members’ credentials? You’ll want to take a look at their degrees, their experience in dealing with adult learners, and their understanding of online learning. 

  6. How does the institution keep courses current? This refers not just to course content but also to the resources used in the course. Does the institution provide access to digitized libraries and global online databases? How often are courses updated? “Almost every credible institution has an approval process to control the quality and currency of courses,” SchWeber explains. 

  7. How does the degree-granting institution promote experiential learning? Because adults learn best by doing, the best online programs are those that require students to apply the knowledge they’ve learned.

Workforce, February 2001, Vol80, No 2, p. 46  Subscribe Now!