Online information on colleges falls far short of expectations
BOCA RATON Fla. - Many working adults who are searching for an online degree program are pressed for time, and their search for the “right” college can be very frustrating. According to a study conducted by University Consultants LLC, a Boca Raton (Fla) based advisory firm, the majority of those searching for an online degree are confronted by a large number of web based resources claiming to offer information on colleges. But when these web sites are accessed, critical information like comparative tuition costs, is nowhere to be found.
University Consultants’ founder, Joseph Schmoke, says the study was done in cooperation with several universities and selected students. One of the institutions, Andrew Jackson University www.aju.edu , a wholly-online school in Birmingham, Alabama, tracked the inquiries they received from multiple sources. These inquiries came from several sources including third party marketers, Internet search engines, and from the university’s own web site.
Don Kassner, Andrew Jackson University’s president, stated that it is obvious when a lead is directed to them by a third party marketer. “The prospective student, almost always a working adult, sent to us by a lead aggregator, is on a mission. They are trying to get as much information from as many schools as they can in order to make an informed decision about where to enroll. And they have to dig that information out themselves,” says Kassner.
Schmoke supports Kassner’s claim. “The aggregators’ objective, quite simply, is to generate leads for their paying clients, the schools listed on the marketers’ sites. Their objectives evidently do not include providing detailed information to prospective students. These client schools pay the aggregators a fee, sometimes as much as fifty dollars, for every referral,” asserts Schmoke. As a result, the aggregators have no incentive to provide useful data such as comparative costs and accreditation information. This makes the task of finding the most appropriate school and degree program quite daunting. Prospective students must fend for themselves.”
University president Kassner cited one recent example of student frustration. A recent enrollee in an accelerated master’s degree program, Rob Hall, who is a police chief in La Crosse, Virginia, said that he spent about two years before he found a school that he felt was right for him. Chief Hall, in an e-mail exchange with Schmoke, said that he ‘played detective’ on and off for a long time before he found an online master’s degree program that was accredited but would not break the bank.
Hall’s detective work consisted of first identifying a school, then perusing their degree programs, inquiring about cost and accreditation, making sure the classes were available online with flexible scheduling, and finally, speaking to an admissions representative. He didn’t find what he wanted until a friend suggested he look at Andrew Jackson University, which had just introduced an accelerated master’s degree program for senior law enforcement professionals with command experience. Without that referral Hall said he’d probably still be looking for a place to enroll.
The solution, Schmoke thinks, to the lack of pertinent information on the nation’s colleges and universities is a central database that does not accept advertising from aggregators or colleges or send paid leads to schools. “The aggregators, and many overpriced or non-accredited colleges, would certainly oppose any such effort,” said Schmoke. “We need a Consumers Reports-type unbiased information source,” Schmoke concluded, “but it’s a formidable task to pry information out of four thousand-plus institutions. Someone will do it eventually, maybe us.”
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About University Consultants LLC
Founded in 1980, the firm focuses on for-profit postsecondary education. In 2005 a team led by the firm’s founder, Joseph Schmoke, initiated a successful turnaround effort at a nationally accredited distance learning institution. The firm continues to monitor and analyze marketing and financial strategy in the education and training industry.
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