More students than ever before are enrolled in online college courses. According to the Sloan Consortium, an association devoted to the growth of quality online education, nearly 3.5 million students were taking at least one online college course during the fall term of 2006. That number has jumped ten percent from the previous year.

The first form of online education was introduced in the early 1990s and was used by companies to train new employees. As the Internet continued to evolve and people were able to own personal computers, universities and other institutions began to use this medium as a way to reach out to students on a higher educational basis. By the year 2000, more colleges and universities began focusing on online education as technology continued to progress. Completely online degree programs offered by distinguished universities became increasingly popular.

Over the years, the workforce has changed greatly. Today, many studies show that in order to land a higher paying position or earn a promotion, you must have a degree. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, for a firefighter to be promoted to a position higher than battalion chief a bachelor’s degree is required in a field such as fire science or public administration.

Earning an online degree is easier for adults who are already considered to be in the “real world” and not looking for the typical college experience. There are no classes to commute to and students can work from any computer with an internet connection anytime that is convenient for them. Online courses are flexible and allow students to work at their own pace, which is suitable for those trying to fit an education around their busy life.

However, students should be cautious when choosing an online university. There are numerous “diploma mill” scams that many have become victim to. When choosing an online university, make sure to keep the following in mind:

  • Choose a university accredited by an accrediting agency that is approved by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). You can search for a school accredited by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation at
  • It takes time to earn a quality degree. Do not choose a university that claims you can obtain a degree within a few days or weeks.
  • Many “diploma mills” charge a flat rate or charge per degree. Legitimate universities collect tuition by credit or course, not per degree.
  • You have to do the course work to earn a degree. “Diploma mills” may grant degrees based solely on work or life experience without requiring exams or assignments. Accredited universities may give a few credits for experience related to the field of study, but not an entire degree.

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