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What Laws Do You Need To Know As A Distance Learner?

Jun 1, 2007 Alyice Edrich, Columnist | 0 Comments

As online education becomes a recognized and viable way to earn a college degree, more and more scam artists are popping up with uncredentialed, programs offering worthless degrees and taking money from unsuspecting men, women, and teenagers everywhere.

How do you know if a college is legit? How do you know if the certificate or degree is worth the paper it’s written on? You investigate. You…

Start by talking to someone in the admissions office

  • Ask how long the college has been around.
  • Ask about the education and experiences of the professors.
  • Ask who the college is accredited by.
  • Ask if the field you’re going into has the special accreditation you need to succeed in your field of choice. (A degree in Electro-Mechanical Engineering [accreditation from], for instance, requires a different accreditation than a degree in Veterinary Medicine [accreditation from].) 

Find out about its accrediting agency 

Make sure you can get a job once you graduate with that certificate or degree 

  • Ask if the college you are verifying has any complaints or legal actions filed against it that may make it difficult for you to complete your degree or find a job upon graduation.
  • Call employers in your field of interest and you ask if they would hire you with a degree from XX College. Some colleges don’t have the proper accreditation for certain states, let alone cities, which could vastly decrease your ability to seek work if you want to move out of state.
  • Contact the alumni in your field of interest. Can any of them give you a good recommendation on the college? Did they get a job in their field of studies because of their degree from that college?

Discover what laws are in place with regards to your education 

  • Does current law allow you to study a specific field online or must you study in a hands-on environment?
  • Medical programs, for instance, require internships and residencies. Internships allow students to experience hands-on medical training. Residencies allow students to work in a hospital or doctor’s office, under the supervision of a licensed medical     professional. Without internships and residencies, medical students cannot graduate or practice medicine.
  • Does current law require that xx amount of hours be spent in a physical classroom outside of xx amount of online classroom time?
  • Some college courses aren’t required by law to meet in person, but do so to benefit the students. For instance, Carroll College offers students the choice to attend “fully online” or “meet in class plus online” courses.
  • Can you take your tests online or must you meet with someone in person to be evaluated on procedures and skills, not just head knowledge? (After all, you wouldn’t want a surgeon operating on you if he had never interned, would you?)
  • While some degrees require mandatory in-person testing, such as the State Bar Exam—which allows law students to become practicing attorneys-at-law, other degrees are more lenient, allowing students to take exams online.
  • But leniency doesn’t stop students from having to meet in classroom settings to take mid-terms and final exams. Many professors prefer to have their students meet in a classroom environment to take exams because it prevents students from cheating and stops students from paying someone to take the exams for them.
  • Will you be allowed to practice in your field of study outside of the state you graduated from?
  • Does the college require you to have health insurance while enrolled in specific courses?
  • A quick search for “is health insurance required to go to college” produced numerous colleges requiring students to provide proof of  current health coverage. For instance, Southern Maine Community College requires all students enrolled in 9 or more credits per semester to have health insurance and Harvard requires students studying abroad to carry adequate health insurance.

Make sure you can receive Federally Assisted Financial Aid 

Funding from the Federal Government is a wonderful indication of the validity of the college and its certificates and degrees. If the Federal Government will not fund the courses offered at the college, the college is most likely not accredited and you’d be wise to apply to a different college.

You see, according to the amended Higher Education Reconciliation Act (HERA), online courses (a.k.a. telecommunication courses) are no longer classified as “correspondent courses” if they lead to an accredited (or recognized) certificate, associates, or bachelor’s degree. And certificate programs no longer have to be one year in length in order to qualify for federal funding. That’s great news for everyone: colleges, students, and lenders!

Under the old law, known as the 50 Percent Rule, federal funding was not provided if the college itself didn’t offer 50% of their courses online or if a certificate program wasn’t one year in length. Instead, the government classified such courses as correspondent courses and refused to allow government funds to help pay for such courses. This resulted in higher student debts, and a higher number of defaults on student loans. Partly because there was no formula in place to protect students from “diploma mills” that did nothing more than take a students money by providing false education: a degree that no employer would accept as legitimate. And     partly because without the promised careers and the money that came with them, students didn’t have income to repay their student loans.

Additional Resources

Regional accreditation agencies:

  • Middle States Commission of Higher Education -
  • Northwest Commission of Schools & Colleges -
  • North Central Association of Colleges & Schools -
  • New England Association of Schools & Colleges -
  • Southern Association of Colleges & Schools -
  • Western Association of Schools & Colleges -

Specialized accreditation programs:

  • Accrediting Board for Engineering Technology -
  • American Bar Association - 
  • American Dental Association -
  • American Osteopathic Association -
  • American Physical Therapy Association -
  • American Veterinary Medical Association -
  • Association for Biblical Higher Education -
  • Association to Advance Collegiate Schools Business International -
  • National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences -
  • National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education -




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