Higher education goes online -- Avoid the pitfalls!

As technology continues its march forward and busy people look for ways to squeeze in higher education without leaving the house or office, online learning is becoming more popular.

A new study from Sloan Consortium found that 3.94 million people were enrolled in at least one online course in fall 2007, up 12.9% from 2006.

Best of all? Research from the US Department of Education found that online instruction is just as effective as in-class instruction.
If you're thinking about taking online classes -- either on the side while working or in lieu of going to a traditional college -- here's what you need to remember: The vast majority of advertising for online learning is done by for-profit colleges. These are almost always a complete rip-off!

Before you enroll in expensive programs like The University of Phoenix -- and borrow money to finance it -- please, please, please call your local community college or public, four-year college to find out about their online classes. The cost of a 3-credit class might very well be less than a single credit at one of the for-profit institutions.

These online programs at non-profit public colleges are generally not included in the seemingly consumer-friendly sites that "help" people search for colleges -- but are really just advertising vehicles for the for-profits. For instance FindtheRightSchool.com reports that schools in its network include "Devry University, University of Phoenix, American Intercontinental University, The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, Walden University, and Kaplan University" -- all of which are for-profit companies with advertising budgets much, much larger than the non-profits.

Finding online programs at public colleges will take a bit more effort -- but you'll save a ton of money and avoid a lot of pain.
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