Article - Higher Ed Automation:

Traditionally, obtaining a college education in America was a prestigious and intellectual endeavor. Obtaining a Bachelors degree required 4 years of rigorous story, while obtaining an associates degree required two years of attendance. Students attended school, learned from professors, and interacted with peers. A college diploma meant that the student had learned something, had worked hard, and had proven him or herself in an academically rigorous environment.

Today, this is no longer the case. While there are many fine brick-and-mortar college institutions still in existence, there is also a wide variety of online colleges. Students who attend an online college do not attend a physical university. They take courses from their own homes that are offered over the internet, and obtain diplomas after completing a certain number of credit hours.

While some reputable universities offer online diplomas there are many online universities that function as nothing more than diploma mills, offering a fake degree to any student that pays the money. Some of these disreputable online institutions do not require students to have a high school diploma. Many of them do not require students to attend any classes at all- upon receipt of a check, a diploma is sent out to the "new college graduate." These less reputable institutions are nothing more than expensive printing businesses- they offer very expensive fake college diplomas in order to make a large profit.

Of course, there is also a selection of online university that falls into neither camp. There are many online schools that are neither digital branches of highly reputable universities or a diploma mills. Some of these schools are accredited, and other schools are unaccredited. Some of these schools require credentialed professors, others will accept any professor with a college diploma without verifying that professors credentials or experience. It is important to do careful research and determine the level of rigor of the online academic program, because many of these disreputable online schools appear legitimate at first glance.

It is unfortunate that students who are perhaps considering college for the first time are being swindled by these online diploma mills, and deprived of the education that they deserve. While the national accrediting boards have attempted to ensure that only legitimate online colleges are accredited, it is impossible to oversee all of the many online colleges that appear on a regular basis. It is not difficult to break into the online college business, as anyone with a website can theoretically advertise themselves as an institution granting diplomas, regardless of their actual qualifications.  Of course, these online diploma mills are illegal within the United States and many other countries, but people routinely violate these laws or find ways around them. 

Even for those attending a reputable online university, the level of education is not up to the same standards as a brick-and-mortar university. Interaction with professors and peer discussion were traditionally the cornerstones of the American college experience, and these vital components of an education are all-but-lost when students remain at home, isolated, with only a virtual classroom. Peer review, community groups, and intellectual collaboration have no ability to grow without face to face interaction, and a generation of students choosing online colleges for cost and convenience, will be the worse for it.

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