Monday, January 11, 2010

By Mary Jack

Distance learning degrees and online degree programs have become popular since the internet became a household name. This has opened doors to a great opportunity for those wishing to pursue further education. But just as it is with everything new, the internet has also presented challenges and created room for sale of unscrupulous degrees and diplomas. The figures released by USA Today indicate that in 2003, over 400 diploma mills were in operation and the number was on the increase. Surprisingly, this dubious operation of degree mills seems to be thriving in an industry currently estimated at $500 million per year.

Nevertheless, many colleges and universities are now offering legitimate degrees and diplomas. Unlike the mills, institutions of higher learning are doing everything possible to provide the same quality of education offered to students in the traditional learning environment. With access to video lectures, online courses, innovative online testing methods, and virtual library facilities, those seeking distance learning degrees can rest assured their diplomas have been justly earned. Unfortunately, many employers' views have been tainted because of the influx of fake degrees.

To address the misinformation, 6 accreditation agencies have been authorized by the U.S. National Education Board to weed out the unscrupulous bogus programs. Then, the agencies give accreditation to the colleges and universities that meet the minimum standards for legitimate learning institutions. In addition, the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC) also provide accreditation specifically to distance learning schools. The DETC has the backing of both the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and the Department of Education. Therefore the students can rest assured their education has matched, and often exceeded that of their traditional peers.

For the students looking for specific programs of specialization, various associations are available to assess the excellence of these distance learning degrees and grant the necessary accreditation to qualifying schools. For example, accounting programs are scrutinized and accredited by the International Association for Management Education, and health programs answer to the evaluations of the American Health Management Association. Only the agencies recognized by CHEA or the Department of Education have the authority to grant institutional accreditation.

So, to verify the educational quality of any institution, students, parents, and potential employers should be concerned about accreditation status. If any college or university has that coveted seal of approval, it means distance learning degrees have met the same basic standards of excellence with the support and facilities necessary to adequately offer online degree programs. Conversely, specialized accreditation concentrates on evaluating the course curriculum based upon the established standards of the university or college.

Accreditation ensures students have received quality and adequate training in their perspective areas of study and definitely earned their distance learning degrees. Parents and potential employers can believe these students are prepared to become a productive member of society. By the same token, employees who have taken accredited courses have met the requirements of their specialize area of study. Alternatively, it also mean that institutions denied accreditation have not met the minimum standards of excellence.

The onus is on the employers to evaluate the credibility and validity of a campus offering distance learning degrees. Due to the rise in fake diplomas, it has only made employers become stricter in checking every applicant's diploma to ensure it is a valid one from an accredited institution. And since this can sometimes be complex and cumbersome for the employer, as a job applicant, you can make this process easier by providing any vital accrediting information to your prospective employer as you make your job application. This will ensure your application is not over-looked and will elevate your chance of landing a job interview.

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