It's always been hard to tell until after you've paid your money and sat through some online courses.
Now, however, there's a new way to evaluate online universities before you commit. College Choice for Adults, which was developed with a grant from the Lumina Foundation for Education, shares data on whether students are really learning at their virtual campuses.
To see how the site works, I looked at the statistics for Kaplan University, which has 59,204 students. This make Kaplan bigger than UCLA, Ohio State, University of Texas or any other traditional university. According to the site, 89% of Kaplan alumni experienced overall satisfaction with the school and 90% would recommend the school to others. One of Kaplan's lowest scores came when students were asked about their relationships with other students -- 77% answered positively.
But are these numbers for Kaplan or any other school legit? To keep things honest, Lumina contracted with a third-party nonprofit to oversee the data.
This new resource isn't perfect. Just 12 institutions are participating and one of the field's big gorillas -- Phoenix University -- has yet to join. Two more institutions, however, have already signed up and more are expected.
If you're considering taking online courses, here are some of the questions for online college degree programs that the creators of the College Choice for Adults suggest that you ask:
- Is there a sample course that I can view to see how your courses work?
- What evidence does the institution have about how satisfied current students are with their educational experience?
- Will I be able to transfer credits earned at another institution? And which of those credits will count toward my degree requirements?
- Roughly how many hours of homework is required each week?
- What costs and expenses will I have in addition to tuition?
- What will I learn? What knowledge, skills and/or competencies will I be expected to acquire by completing this degree?