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NEWS | Feb. 23, 2011

A degree without an education is nonsense!

By Judy James and Jim Jurewicz Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

How often have you heard this? "You need to get that degree!"

The military continues to emphasize education; we all know Airmen need their CCAF degrees to get promoted. They also need a degree when they take off the uniform and put on a civilian suit to get a decent job. All over the country, people are going back to college and technical schools believing a degree or certification will give them an advantage when it comes to landing that dream job and making more money. Over a lifetime, college graduates make an estimated $1 million more than high school graduates. No wonder everyone is emphasizing the value of a college degree.

However, a college degree doesn't necessarily mean an education. Degrees are awarded, but an education is earned. There is a right way and a wrong way to go about getting a college degree and choosing the right college is very important. According to John Bear, author of Bear's Guide to Earning Degrees by Distance Learning, diploma mills are big business, earning approximately $500 million annually through more than 400 diploma mills and 300 bogus web sites. And, with the all the emphasis on getting a degree, they will continue to flourish. The problem is many people aren't aware of what schools are diploma mills.

Webster's Dictionary defines a diploma mill as, "An institution of higher education operating without supervision of a state or professional agency and granting diplomas which are either fraudulent or because of the lack of proper standards worthless." Diploma mills have existed since the early 1920s. The truth is diploma mills are more interested in taking your money than providing you with a quality education.

Obtaining a degree while in the military, either active duty or reserves, or being the spouse of a military member can be a challenge because of the frequent deployments, permanent change of station moves, and family commitments. It can be extremely difficult to carve out the time needed to get it all done. For many adult students, online colleges can help a great deal. Online degree programs provide flexible schedules that make it much easier for students to juggle careers, family responsibilities, and the demands of education.

Today, many traditional classroom programs are now "accelerated" in the hope of getting a degree sooner. Because of time constraints, there is the temptation to get through these degree programs as quickly as possible. This is where the pitfall of getting a degree without an education comes into play. A quality education takes dedication time, and hard work. The truth is most credible colleges require 120 semester hours for a bachelor's degree and 30-36 hours for a graduate degree. Accelerated courses require twice as much work in a very condensed amount of time. While students get done a few months earlier, the stress on the individual and the family might not make this the best option for most people. Again, keep in mind, getting an education is a process to be enjoyed and cherished and not something to gulp or gobble down.

There are plenty of legitimate colleges and universities that are military-friendly and provide a quality education with the degree. All that is required is to ask a few questions before signing up for a degree program.

What determines a quality education? There are several factors to consider.

First, ask if the school is regionally accredited. Most diploma mills will have a long list of accrediting agencies that looks impressive. However, asking a few questions might reveal these agencies aren't regionally accredited nor are their courses accepted for credit by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Another technique diploma mills use to validate degree programs is to imply they are sanctioned by state registration and licensing. Don't fall for this trick. National accreditation is not the same as regional accreditation as the latter requires universities and colleges to meet stringent requirements on the quality of academic programs and the faculty who teach for them.

Another characteristic of a quality education is the academic and professional background of instructors at the college or university. Do the instructors have graduate degrees from legitimate universities, and are they experts in the subjects they teach? This can be harder to determine for online programs, but if the university has regional accreditation then it is likely they employ quality instructors in their programs.

Perhaps the easiest way to determine if a college provides a quality education is by how hard the classes are. A sound education will require the development of critical thinking skills in almost every aspect of the academic program. Instructors will assign research papers and projects, presentations, case studies, assignments and exams. Each step of the way the classes will challenge intellectual ability and instructors should be providing comprehensive feedback. Be wary of schools that have little or no interaction with professors, require little academic work or assignments, do not require tests in any of their courses, and everyone gets an A in the class.

Do not look at getting a degree as "square filling." Today, the military and many businesses and employers in the civilian sector are well aware of diploma mills and the "easy" colleges. They will weigh these factors when considering applicants for promotion or evaluating job applications. Taking the easy way to a college education is not always the smartest or best way. Employers (including military supervisors) expect their employees to demonstrate the academic knowledge and skills that accompany a college degree. So before submitting an application or pursuing higher education, think about earning a quality education with the degree.

Instead of focusing on how fast, focus on quality. A degree without an education is nonsense.