Q&A: Spotting a Good Online School

A: Because so many traditional and online schools exist, it can be difficult to find the best institution for you. Many individuals are only focused on their program/major and the time it could take to graduate. We rarely investigate a schools' staff, students, communication and relationships. Based on my experiences, good online schools usually provide the following:

Flexibility. This means having more courses, course length options and course start dates available for students. Increasing options may decrease course withdrawals. Students are more focused when they can work their class length around their personal lives (i.e. family, employment, etc.).

Personal relationships. While online education is great for adult learners who have other responsibilities, students may feel "alone" on their educational journey. To reduce these situations, many schools have advisors and academic counselors who are the first point of contact for students. These individuals are able to assist students academically, as well as serve as liaisons between students and instructors (if need be). For example, I often receive emails from advisors if a student is having significant financial, academic and/or medical issues. Some schools even offer student mentors. A mentor can be an instructor or another student who can provide academic guidance and encouragement. The mentor checks in with the student on a regular basis and sometimes provides "light" tutoring and/or educational resources.

Timely communication. Making sure students are up-to-date with school policies, program changes, course dates, major staff changes, and general school information is imperative to academic success. Online schools can do this through email, online classroom announcements and school discussion and/or information boards. Social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook are excellent avenues, too.

Student involvement. Students respond positively to support, encouragement and acknowledgement. Developing programs that foster involvement can help cultivate a more valuable experience. Examples include: student recognition programs; course and book scholarships; online support and/or program groups; and online/local tutoring.

Finally, it's important to remember that the academic experience is the responsibility of both the school and the student. If the school provides all of the above, it's the students' responsibility to participate and take advantage of the opportunities.

Dr. Beverley BrowningDr. Beverly A. Browning has been consulting in the areas of grant writing, contract bid responses, and organizational development for nearly four decades. Her clients have included chambers of commerce, faith-based organizations, units of local and county municipal governments, state and federal government agencies, school districts and colleges, social and human service agencies, hospitals, fire departments, service associations, and Fortune 500 corporations. Dr. Browning has assisted clients and workshop participants throughout the United States in receiving awards of more than $250 million. Dr. Browning is the author of over 37 grants-related publications, including Grant Writing For Dummies™, Grant Writing for Educators, How to Become a Grant Writing Consultant, Faith-Based Grants: Aligning Your Church to Receive Abundance, and Perfect Phrases for Writing Grant Proposals. She holds degrees in Organizational Development, Public Administration, and Business Administration. Dr. Browning is a grant writing course developer and online facilitator for Ed2Go.com; former faculty member at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Organization Management and a current member of the American Association of Grant Professionals. She is CEO of Bev Browning & Associates (BBA, Inc.); Founder and Director of the Grant Writing Training, and most recently, the new Vice President for Grants Professional Services at eCivis Inc. (www.ecivis.com)