Online degree and certificate programs have come a long way since Colby Nolan, an actual cat, earned an executive MBA. The option of online college grants have grown substantially in numbers and enrollment. There are also many grants, scholarships and loans these days to help pay for them.
Accreditation has a lot to do with it, a 2001 report from the American Council on Education Center for Policy Analysis and EDUCAUSE suggests. When a college, university or career and technical institute is accredited, that signals to the federal government that it provides students a quality education deserving of financial aid, the report notes. Technical school programs and college grantapparently proved their potential during a U.S. Department of Education pilot program years ago. Officials have since been working to ensure that students who pursue online college studies receive a quality education.
Online institutions can be accredited by national or regional agencies, but not all accrediting agencies are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Agencies that are part of the nationally recognized Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions are. These agencies look at areas such as interactivity, trained faculty, student services and advertising as part of the accreditation process. In October, the U.S. Department of Education reportedly published updated guidelines that add requirements, such as verifying student identities and monitoring enrollment growth.
"Diploma mills" or "degree mills," as they're known, have been a problem, reportedly selling degrees for a flat fee. According to Wisconsin State Senator Fred Risser, the problem is "increasing". Risser in May announced a newly crafted law prohibiting the establishment of degree mills in Wisconsin. Many other states have passed similar laws, the announcement from his office noted.
On the national level, Congressman Timothy H. Bishop of New York has proposed cracking down on diploma mills, a January report in The Chronicle of Higher Education noted. As early as 2005, the Federal Trade Commission released a guide that, among other things, recommended employers check credentials as a means of avoiding hiring job candidates with bogus degrees. The Department of Education offers a list of accredited schools and recognized agencies on its web site, making it easier for students and employers to refer to these institutions.
Even with accreditation procedures for online institutions in place, students as late as 2006 might have been hard-pressed to find government grants and loans for some online programs. The law until that time denied grants and loans to students attending institutions where more than half of all students and programs were online, according to a Chronicle of Higher Education report. The restrictions, part of what was known as a "50 Percent Rule", were created in 1972 as a means of curbing the rapid growth of fraudulent diploma mills and correspondence schools, a 2005 Inside Higher Education report noted.
Colby, a pet cat, was accepted into the online degree program after investigators filed an application claiming he had taken community college classes and worked as a baby sitter, reports show. The feline reportedly achieved a 3.5 grade point average, and earned a worthless degree. An attorney general's office sued the company that awarded it for fraud.