The ship of online education is navigating some high seas these days. Or, to flirt with mixed metaphors, perhaps it would be more accurate to describe the baby of online education as experiencing growing pains, seeing that the long-term future of this important new educational trend is hardly in doubt. Internet colleges and universities are not likely to sink beneath the waves for good, no matter how rough the weather may be at present. Higher education is a perennial need of civilized societies, and the virtual forms that such education is now beginning to assume in the early decades of the Digital Age have a decided air of historical inevitability about them.
Still, such reflections will be of little comfort to those who have been the victims of the hard-sell tactics allegedly practised by some of the online schools out there. According to this recent article in the New York Times, some students who did not meet minimum standards for college acceptance were enticed to enroll anyway, taking on heavy student loans to pay their way that brought in billions to the unscrupulous institutions in question, but left the students with no diplomas and heavy debts. The U.S. Government is now suing one such institution, Educational Management Corporation, to recover some of the $11 billion it received from Federal and state lending programs during the period since 2003.
Such abuses, if proven to be true, provide much food for thought, from the continuing Wild West character of the Internet, to the pros and cons of laissez-faire capitalism, to the fallenness of human nature. These large topics will have to wait for another occasion. For now, the most important thing, perhaps, is for us to remember the age-old adages that we all know but too often forget to put into practice: “Buyer, beware,” naturally. But also, and especially relevant to the the aims of TheBestSchools.org, “Forewarned is forearmed.”