Not all online schools are an A+ | Better Business Bureau

The Federal Trade Commission is filing charges against two groups of suspected diploma mills that charge anywhere from $135 to $349 for a useless high school diploma. Last month, Better Business Bureau Northwest’s Scam Tracker received a complaint from a student who was concerned that an online high school was a scam.

The Western Washington resident contacted BBB Northwest when she ran into trouble applying for college. The complainant had obtained her degree from Kaplan College Preparatory in 2011, but the school closed down two years later. The colleges she applied to showed the school was not accredited and her high school degree wouldn’t be accepted. Fortunately, BBB staff helped her obtain the proper paperwork to prove the school was accredited at the time of graduation. Unfortunately, the number of students frustrated with their online school of choice is growing.

A recent survey released by the Online Learning Consortium shows the number of higher education students taking at least one distance learning course was up 3.9 percent in 2015.  However, the report also revealed a disparity among private nonprofit colleges and private for-profit schools. While enrollment for private nonprofit institutions increased by 11.3 percent, it decreased 2.8 percent for private for-profit institutions.

The FTC filings have asked the court to place a temporary restraining order halting the operations of Stepping Stonez Development, LLC and Capitol Network Distance Learning Programs, LLC. According to the charges both groups bought a number of website names and created what appeared to be legitimate online high schools.

“The defendants took advantage of people who wanted a high school diploma,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “If a company says you can get a diploma in no time at all or by simply taking an online test, it’s almost certainly a scam.”

The FTC also states the defendants deceived students by claiming to be accredited by organizations that did not exist.

While the convenience and flexibility offered by for-profit online schools can be enticing, BBB warns of the potential risks that come with attending these types of institutions. Keep these tips in mind when choosing an online school:

  • Start with accreditation. Look for accredited universities by visiting Accredited Schools Online. Be sure to research the school’s past to make sure it is a trusted institution.
  • Beware of diploma mills. These types of schools offer “degrees” to students in a short amount of time for a flat fee. These types of diplomas are not valid, and end up costing the student more than just money.
  • Review graduation statistics. Ask to see statistics on graduation and drop-out rates from your chosen school. Be skeptical of institutions that are unable to provide the information or if the drop-out rate is high.
  • Find A+ institutions. Many nonprofit colleges now offer degrees online. Because they’ve been accredited for years, nonprofit institutions are often a safer place to get your degree.

To find a trusted online school visit BBB’s Online Education Accredited Business Directory to read their ratings, complaint histories and contact details. To research online universities, visit akorww.bbb.org.