Online Education: 13 Scary Facts

| Dave Tomar

Are you ready to discover your college program?

Online education is changing lives for the better. Online courses, online colleges, and fully online degrees are creating opportunities for students who might otherwise lack access to a higher education. Whether you’re balancing education and career, raising a child while attending college, serving in the military, or facing your own unique set of circumstances, online education makes it possible to learn and advance your career without disrupting the other important priorities in your life. But that doesn’t mean online education is easy or perfect. In fact, if online education is new to you, it can be downright scary! Of course, we’re not here to frighten you. We’re here to help. And what could be more helpful than a healthy dose of reality?

Is there anything scarier than school?

Yes. Zombies. Zombies are way scarier…and tornadoes…and flesh-eating bacteria…and the idea of getting lost in the ancient catacombs beneath Paris and wandering aimlessly until meeting a cold, dark, solitary death.

Ok. Fair enough. Lot’s of things are scary. But school can be scary too.

And I’m not just talking about old, cob-webby schoolhouses with creaky furnaces groaning in the basement. I’m talking about online college too. Sure, online college is convenient, it’s flexible, and the distance between you and your own refrigerator is never too far. On the surface, that doesn’t sound scary. But when you dig into the facts, there are a lot of dangers lurking around hidden corners. Virtual hidden corners, but hidden nonetheless.

If you’re feeling bold, you can dive right into our look at The Very Best Online Colleges.

Otherwise, read on for 13 Scary Facts About Online Colleges and tips for facing your fears head on!

1.Shady for-profit schools haunt the online sector.

According to the Brookings Institution, for-profit colleges enroll an outsized percentage of the students who are taking only online courses, accounting for 22% of online-only undergrads, and 27% of online-only grad students. While not all for-profit schools are inherently disreputable, a great many are. The for-profit sector’s recent history is a rap sheet of charges including recruitment scandals, academic fraud, and the dispensation of worthless degrees. Be absolutely certain that you are getting your online education from a reputable and fully accredited institution.

To learn more about navigating the tricky for-profit sector in search of meaningful opportunities, check out our Guide to For-Profit Colleges: What You Need to Know.

2.At-risk students are most vulnerable to for-profit exploitation.

Of course it’s easy to advise that you only get your online education from a reputable institution. But many for-profit institutions exploit students who are most likley to be eligible for need-based loans. According to an article in Salon, “More than sixty percent of students at for-profits receive need-based Pell Grants.” For-profit schools need low-income students in order to make money, and may prey on such students with aggressive recruitment tactics.

If you’re concerned about the cost of your online education, rest assured that you have a lot of options. There are ways to get an affordable online education without sacrificing quality. To learn more, check out The Affordable Colleges Source.

3.Students from shady for-profit schools are more likely to fall behind on loan repayment.

USA Today reports that sixteen percent of students from for-profit schools are delinquent on their loans, as compared to the six percent of students attending public institutions who are behind on their repayment plans. Online students attending for-profit schools are significantly more likely than students in online public institutions to struggle with loan repayment. As an online student, you should know that the quality of the school you choose will have a direct bearing on your future ability to pay back your loans.

Before you choose your online school, be sure you understand how to navigate the student loan landscape. Check out The Benefits and Pitfalls of Student Loans.

If you’re currently struggling to repay loans, consider Student Loan Refinancing—And Other Tips On Post-Graduate Adulting.

4.Non-graduation rates at shady for-profit schools are frighteningly high.

According to college debt expert and senior vice president of Edvisors, Mark Kantrowitz, students who drop out of college are four times more likely to default on their loans than students who graduate. The population of non-graduates represents sixty-three percent of all defaults on loan repayment. Before you commit to an online college, check out the Department of Education’s College Scorecard, where you can learn about graduation rates, job prospects and more. If these rates are comparatively low at a college of your choice, that’s a pretty bad sign. Stay away.

For a look at online schools with a reptutation for high graduation rates, check out The Best Online Colleges.

5.Online students tend to get worse grades than traditional classroom students.

A study by the Brookings Institution found that “taking a course online reduces student grades by 0.44 points on the traditional four-point grading scale, approximately a 0.33 standard deviation decline relative to taking a course in-person.” This amounted to an average grade of “C” for online students, relative to a “B−” for traditional students. But this is an issue that has nothing to do with shady for-profit schools. This is more about your ability to adapt to studying, learning, and managing your schedule as an online student. The numbers above suggest that this can be a truly challenging adjustment for many students.

If you’re looking to make the adjustment, check out Adjusting to Online College: 10 Tips for First-Timers.

6.The effects of struggling in an online setting can actually be cumulative.

The study by the Brookings Institute also found that students who took an online course tended to earn a GPA roughly 0.15 points lower in the following semester than did their traditional classroom counterparts. This suggests that students who were unable to make the adjustment failed to absorb or retain enough foundational knowledge from their online courses to compete with traditional classroom students.

This is why it’s so important as an online student to seek support. If you’re struggling and you’re looking for tips on how to turn things around, check out Online College Gone Wrong…And How To Fix It.

7.Online students are at a greater risk of course non-completion.

A study from the University of California, Davis, found that community college students throughout the state were eleven percent less likely to complete an online course than were students taking this exact course in person.

For a look at community colleges that are getting good results through both online and traditional courses, take a look at The 50 Best Community Colleges in the United States.

8.Online students are at a greater risk of dropping out.

The Brookings study found that students who take at least one online course were about nine percent more likely to drop out in the following semester. Life circumstances and cost played a big role in this rate for many online students.

Fortunately, there are a lot of steps you can take to improve your chances of success with an online education. To learn more about affordable schools, time management tips, and strategies for finding balance in your life, check out Online College Tips You’ll Be Thankful For.

9.Online students are often inherently at risk of non-graduation based on personal factors.

According to a 2013 study by Babson Survey Research Group, forty-one percent of chief academic officers reported that ”retaining students was a greater problem for online courses than for face-to-face courses.” This may have as much to do with the various work, family, and economic challenges that many online students bring with them into higher education as it does academic difficulty. For instance, there are nearly five million students balancing a college education with parenting responsiblities today, the majority of them through the online courses.

If you’re working hard to balance things like work, family, and education, check out Parents as Students—Online College is the Solution.

10.Transferring credits can be really hard, possibly even nightmarish.

Transferring credits from an online school to a traditional school may be challenging, especially if you attend an online college without regional accreditation. If you plan to one day continue your education at a different school, you’ll want to know that the credits you earn today will have value tomorrow. Be aware that transferring credits can be a complicated, bureaucratic experience.

The good news is that schools are actually getting better at facilitating credit transfer. According to The New York Times, “with nearly sixty percent of students switching campuses on their way to a bachelor’s degree, institutions are responding to the new educational reality.” That said, it still depends significantly on the quality and reputation of your online school. If you start calling around to traditional schools only to find out that your online college credits won’t transfer, chances are the quality of your online program leaves something to be desired.

If you’re navigating the bureaucratic maze of credit transfer, especially from a nationally accredited school, you’ll need help. To learn more, check out Will my college credits transfer? (From nationally accredited to regionally accredited).

11.Plagiarism is even more rampant at online colleges.

According to a Pew Research Center poll, fifty-five percent of college presidents reported an increase in plagiarism in student papers over the prior decade (the other forty-five percent are living in denial obviously). Eighty-nine percent of those respondents confirmed that computers and Internet were major factors.

To learn more, find out our answer to the question, Is Cheating Easier in Online College?

12.Online college can be lonely.

If you fear solitude, this may well be the scariest part of online college. In a lot of ways, it’s just you out there. You have to keep your own schedule, stay on task, and study regularly without anybody looking over your shoulder. That kind of educational freedom can be exhilarating, but also terrifying. You must be accountable to yourself.

If your life requires the convenience of an online education, but you also crave certain aspects of the classroom or campus experience, consider College Online but Close to Home: Blending Traditional and Online Education.

13.You may never actually meet your professor.

It’s possible your professor is located 500 miles and three time zones away. If you’re taking asynchronous online courses, you might not even interact in real-time. If you’re used to getting by on your face-to-face charm, this could present a challenge. Getting to know your professors and instructors may take a bit more effort in online college.

But here’s the good news—online professors are getting better at using this medium to make real and meaningful connections. In fact, according to many of your fellow online students, Online Colleges Offer Better Professor Engagement.

We hope we didn’t freak you out too much. The truth is, these scary facts don’t have to define your experience. It’s all about making smart decisions, learning how to adjust, and asking for help when you need it. Your online education can be the key to a brighter future and a great career if you know what to look for…and what to avoid.

Tons of exciting, high-quality, and affordable online educational opportunities await the savvy shopper.

To get started on your search, check out The 50 Best Online Colleges and Universities. Choose wisely, and you’ll have nothing to fear!

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