Research findings released this week by online education consumer group, AboutEdu, ranks some of the country's lowest online college tuition and retraining programs. The national research project reviewed the online offerings of more than 1,000 colleges nationwide, and in addition to the tuition cost rankings, the research showcases some of the country's most affordable online retooling programs in key job-growth industries: Healthcare, Technology, Environment, Social Services, and others.

Retail manager and proud grandmother, Caridad Canales, searches for online retooling programs on AboutEdu.orgFrom Pharmacy Technology to Medical Transcription to Renewable Energy to Online Game Development programs - the study highlights affordable short term online retraining programs that unemployed workers can access anytime, anywhere.

Online higher education enrollments are poised to continue double digit growth through 2009. The 2008 Sloan Survey of Online Learning reported that approximately 3.94 million students were enrolled in at least one online course in fall 2007, and "For the growing number of displaced workers, accredited and affordable online short term retooling programs provide them with the best option to gain the entry-level credentials needed to access new job opportunities", said Augusto Failde, a principal with AboutEdu. Failde states, "Many unemployed workers are taking on multiple lower paying jobs just to survive, and time and money for expensive multi-year campus-based programs become a luxury most families cannot afford".

Talking Cost: Research findings address cost-per-credit-hour head-on

Tuition has long been a "taboo" subject in higher education, but in the current economic times it is a critical decision factor for most unemployed workers and their families. The findings bust through the discussion by cataloguing the colleges' online programs tuition in three categories:

-Under $100,

-Under $200, and

-Under $300 Tuition cost per credit hour.

These are listed in ascending order from lowest to highest rates on its site, AboutEdu's Low Online Tuition Colleges.

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The research focused on the mission of AboutEdu, which is to inform and educate America's unemployed workforce on the many affordable online retraining resources available to them today. In the research, the organization focused on what it sees as the lowest cost access points for these financially strapped families - Community colleges in the U.S., U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. "Our research focused on identifying online retooling programs, and college tuition options that would not force these families to enter into new educational mortgages they cannot afford to repay", said Failde. "Many have been there with their mortgages, and are not looking to do the same with educational debt that not even bankruptcy can help them with." For many, short term online accredited certificate programs can provide them with the near term job access credentials needed, without having to take on the large debt levels of multi-year degree programs, but still retaining the option to continue for a degree at a later time.

Online Student Carpet: Are Institutions walking the walk with these online programs?

The colleges reviewed were also evaluated for what AboutEdu calls: the school's Online Student Carpet. Are these institutions committed to the complete online educational experience of these working adults, or is their online offering a side project. The factors evaluated in the online student experience survey ranged from the school's website design and structure; to the availability of online course demos; discussion of online tuition rates; to the credit transferability of their short term retooling programs to associate or bachelor degrees, and others.

Buyer Beware Checklist: Know what you need to ask before buying

On their website, the group has introduced a Buyers' Checklist of what you need to ask for when evaluating online educational programs. Dr. Ivan Lugo, a principal with AboutEdu commented, "Online Higher Education is still a relatively new educational product, and first time buyers are unsure of what they can or cannot ask for. The checklist can help them rate, prioritize and rank their choices according to the answers or red flags they get back from these online providers". Outside of clearly understanding the long term financial impact of their purchasing decision, one of the suggestions AboutEdu emphasizes is trying out the online course demo prior to buying. Dr. Lugo continued, "Every online course is different, and you need to make sure it is the right learning environment for you. Some schools create highly interactive courses, but others give you a white screen with text. Know what you're getting before you buy".

AboutEdu, Inc is a Maryland-based non-profit online education consumer organization with a mission to educate and train unemployed, displaced, and disabled workers on how to use online education to retrain for new jobs in growth industries. AboutEdu works with government agencies; community organizations; corporations and foundations to carry out bilingual web-based and on-site educational programs for unemployed workers.

Author Information

Ana Arrendell
AboutEdu, Inc.