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Understanding Online Schools

Online education may be a great opportunity for you to continue your studies while meeting the demands of your mobile military life. Before you invest in your future, learn all you can about online education and how to pick the right school for you.

Finding the time to complete a program of study can be quite challenging, especially as you relocate every two to three years. Taking a program of study online may be your best option. Online education is often more technical or career-driven than a traditional program of study. If you are looking for options to learn skills quickly to help you in the workplace, online education may fit your needs.

According to a study conducted by Online Learning Consortium, more than 6.4 million students, or 32 percent, take at least one online course. Even though the overall number of students taking higher education has decreased, the number of students taking online courses is rising steadily.

Accreditation of online institutions 

With so many online options to choose from, it can be difficult to decide where to start looking. When considering an online institution, the first question to ask is about their accreditation status. Accreditation ensures an institution's education meets acceptable levels of quality, as determined through nongovernmental, peer evaluation of institutions and programs.

The Department of Education and Council for Higher Education recognizes seven bodies to award regional accreditation. One of the following bodies should recognize your program of choice:

  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education, or MSCHE
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Institutions of Higher Education, or NEASC-CIHE
  • North Central Association of Colleges and Schools Higher Learning Commission, or NCA-HLC
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, or NWCCU
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, or SACS
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, or ACCJC-WASC
  • WASC Senior College and University Commission, or WSCUC

If your program of choice is not regionally accredited, check the U.S. Department of Education Institutional Accrediting Agencies, which provides a list of bodies approved for issuing national accreditation.

Institutions that are not accredited or are accredited through an agency not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education are typically referred to as degree or diploma mills. Taking courses from an unaccredited institution may result in employers not recognizing degrees or awards and difficulties in transferring credits to an accredited institution. You can use the Accreditation Search to verify that your institution or program of study is accredited.

Other considerations

Finding out if an online school is for-profit or not-for-profit is another important issue to consider as you explore online institutions. While neither is necessarily better than the other, for-profit education institutions are operated by private businesses looking to make a profit from your enrollment at their institution. Not-for-profit education institutions may be either public or private and are the more traditional liberal arts and community colleges. You can research facts about tuition costs, graduation rates and much more for not-for-profit and for-profit institutions by visiting the National Center for Education Statistics.

Online course structures 

Once you have decided that taking an online program of study is the right decision for you, you should fully understand the learning modules, platforms and formats of online courses. Online course options include the following structures.

  • Asynchronous — Classes are available 24/7 and moderated by a professor. These classes typically offer limited interaction among students and the professor, with weekly discussion boards and online quizzes and tests.
  • Synchronous — Classes meet online at specific times for live, lectured courses. The students and the professor interact in real time, but students still take the quizzes and tests online.
  • Hybrid — Hybrid courses are mostly an online course with modules available 24/7. However, about one-third of the classes and tests and examinations are usually held at the campus. Hybrid courses allow you to do most of your coursework and studying on your own time while still having face-to-face interactions with your classmates and professor. In a hybrid course, you are usually required to take your quizzes and exams in a traditional classroom setting.

Most schools offer an online orientation to help you familiarize yourself with the world of online education. Make sure to check with your school to take advantage of any support and resources they offer to online students.

Now that you know this basic information about online schools, you can make an informed decision on choosing the right school for you. You can use the College Exploration section of MySECO for help researching postsecondary institutions. Tools such as American Association of Community Colleges, Resources for Choosing a School and College Scorecard can also be valuable resources to help you achieve your education goals. For help finding ways to help fund your education, you can visit the Scholarship Finder section of MySECO or see if you are eligible for My Career Advancement Account Scholarship assistance.

You can also visit MilitaryINSTALLATIONS to receive local information and help on finding the right postsecondary institution for you, either online or at a traditional campus. Select 'Adult Education Centers' from the list of programs and services and your installation or ZIP code to find a point of contact near you. 

If you need additional information related to finding the right school for you, you can speak with a SECO career coach by calling Military OneSource at 800-342-9647 or use the Live Chat feature on MySECO for additional guidance.

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