By Lawson, Noel O.
Distance Learning , Vol. 4, No. 1
As society has entered the age of globalization, the way individuals communicate and conduct business has changed. As Renard (2005) stated, "No generation has ever had to wait so little time to get so much information" (p. 44). Technology has made it possible for this generation of students to access information on any subject without having to go to the library or looking at books. Students can use the Internet to access primary, secondary, and tertiary resources that are unavailable in public and private libraries as well as in bookstores (Nellen, 2001). As a result, technology has created opportunities for people who once lacked flexibility to pursue advanced studies without disrupting their family and work schedules.
Colleges are thus transforming how they deliver instruction. Lambert (2006) noted that the popularity of distant education in the United States has gradually forced colleges to become global providers. Competition among colleges for students is no longer a regional turf battle; instead, "institutions that can deliver the most convenient and relevant educational services will dominate" (p. 1). However, amidst easy access, students must be careful in selecting the college or university at which they want to pursue their online degree program because serious problems can accompany distance education. Red flags student should look for include: accreditation; track record; admission policy; class size; credit worthiness; the institution's response to specific questions; qualifications of faculty to teach a distance course; level of interaction between instructor and students; level of student services provided; what current students and graduates say about the program; content, materials, and presentation; quality of the educational experience; and expense. Apart from these items, student learners should conduct a self-evaluation to ensure that they can handle the challenges, in terms of motivation and self-discipline that distance education requires.
Learners need to become familiar with issues that are relevant to distance education. One such issue is accreditation. What is it and what does it look like? Accreditation is the verification of the quality of an educational institution's "entire program by outside evaluators" (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2003, p. 16) and a critical issue for distance education providers. Different forms of accreditation include national, state, and regional. Regional accreditations, such as those of the North Central Association and Southern Association of Colleges and Schools are most widely accepted. Further information on checking the legitimacy of accreditors can be found at the United States Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Students can also check with the Distance Education Training Council (DETC) to verify a school's accreditation.
Another important issue facing distance education students is transfer credits. As Lambert (2006) noted, "The acceptance of the academic credits by other academic institutions earned via distance study is a problem" (p. 2). Lambert warned that if the provider is not nationally or regionally accredited by a recognized accrediting agency such as DETC or regional accrediting agency, the likelihood of the learner later transferring credits is nil.
As informed consumers, students can verify if a university or college is properly licensed and approved in the state where it is located (Thomas, 2006; Simonson et al., 2003).
Foreign students who are enrolled in distance education in the United States must take particular care with this as there are dozens of unrecognized accreditors operating in the United States who give worthless accreditation to their client colleges. Sadly, most of the students who enroll in these distance education programs reside outside the United States and are ill-informed about U.S. accreditation procedures (Lambert, 2006). …