Colleges and universities need to be accredited through an agency recognized by the Department of Education in order to receive federal funding (financial aid). However, certain accrediting agencies are not commonly recognized by all universities and therefore transferring institutions or continuing your education post-graduation may be difficult in some instances. By asking for the accrediting agency by name, you can conduct your own research and come to your own conclusions. For example, Southern New Hampshire University is regionally accredited through New England Association of Schools and Colleges; transfer credit and higher education (Master’s Degree, for example) may be easier to attain given the accrediting agency.
In contrast, Columbus University states they are accredited through The Adult Higher Education Alliance. This agency is not recognized or approved by the US Department of Education, and therefore school is commonly referred to as a “diploma mill”; stay away.
2. What is my unmet need after financial has been applied to my account?
Oftentimes, schools will provide a single number to students regarding the cost of attendance. $27, 682 for an Associate’s degree, for example. But did you know that there is a limit to how much students can borrow to pursue their education? The federal government only allows students to take out up to a certain amount to pursue an Associate’s degree and/or Bachelor’s degree; a different limit is assessed for post-graduate studies as well. Be sure to ask a finance representative if there is an unmet need that will need to be addressed after federal loans have been disbursed.
Cost of attendance for 1 year: $9,000
Loans awarded: $5,500
Pell Grant (if applicable): $1,500
Balance remaining (unmet need): $2,000
The remaining $2,000 per year will need to be paid for either through private loans, grants, scholarships, or out-of-pocket by the student; this is information one should know and understand before enrolling in a degree program.
3. How many credits are required to graduate?
Students need to understand exactly what is expected of them upon enrolling in a degree program. Most schools operate on either a semester or quarter system; credits for each class can range from one to six, or possibly more. Ask your representative how many credits classes are worth so you are aware of the tuition charges that can be expected each term. In addition, based on the type of class schedule schools run on (semester or quarter), more credits may be required in one school, but the specific number of classes that are needed should be looked as well. For example, Everest University requires 96 credits to earn and AS degree and operates on a quarter system (each class is worth, on average, 4 credits); State College of Florida requires 60 credits for an AS and operates on a semester system with each class worth (on average) 3 credits.
Everest University: 96 quarter credits / 4 credits per class = 24 classes
24 classes / 3 classes per term (for FT) / 4 terms per year = 8 terms (or 2 years) to graduate
State College of Florida: 60 semester credits / 3 credits per class = 20 classes
20 classes / 4 classes per term (for FT) / 2 semesters per year (not counting summer session) = 5 semesters (or 2 1/2 years) to graduate
4. What fees are required?
Fees are charges students will incur throughout enrollment in addition to tuition. By carefully reviewing the fees assessed to student accounts, you will not be surprised by a possible balance.
5. What resources are available to students and alumni?
Schools have a plethora of resources available to students throughout their education: virtual libraries, tutoring offices, career services specialists, webinars, etc. The key is knowing what is available, where to access the services, and who to reach out to when questions arise. Ask early, and ask often as services changes, personnel change, and student needs change.
6. What is the average student-teacher ratio in each class?
Concerned about distance education and the potential communication barriers between students and instructors? Fear not. Ask your representative what the typical ratio is between students and teachers in the online classroom. You may be surprised to find that online classes are usually smaller than on-campus classes; courses at Everglades University average 7 students. This allows the instructor to communicate regularly with students and provide them with informative, and personal feedback on assignments.