亲爱的乔大学：你没有提到你是否已经尝试过用“网络学位课程”作为关键词在谷歌上进行过搜索，如果答案是肯定的，相信你已经看到了营利性学校铺天盖地的广告。根据广告行业媒体《广告时代》 （Ad Age）的一项估算，仅凤凰城大学（University of Phoenix）一家就每年花费2亿美元用于电视和互联网推广。广告推广当然没有错，但从某种程度上，这使得要筛选合适的网络学校变得更困难了。
首先，要拥有合法认证机构授予的资质——这可能有点难，因为有些营利性学校自称拥有资质，而资质授予方可能是它们自己捏造的一些虚假机构。为了确保你正在考虑的课程确实是由合格、有资质的学校提供，可以向美国高等教育鉴定委员会（Council on Higher Education Accreditation）或美国教育部（U.S. Department of Education）查询。
Dear Annie:I quit school a few years ago before finishing a bachelor's degree in business, because of financial pressures, but so far I've managed to work my way up through several promotions at my current company. However, my boss just told me she wants to recommend me for another step up the ladder, but positions at that level require a college degree. So I'm considering going back to school, which I always meant to do anyway.
The thing is, with my work schedule, I'm going to need a lot of flexibility, so I'd like to earn my bachelor's online. But do employers generally view online degrees as on par with the in-person kind? Also, do you (or your readers) have any advice on how to choose the right program? —Joe College
Dear J.C.:You don't mention whether you've already tried Googling, say, "online degree programs," but, if so, you've no doubt been bombarded with advertising from for-profit schools. The University of Phoenix alone spends over $200 million a year on television and Internet pitches, according to an estimate from Madison Avenue trade paper Ad Age. Nothing wrong with advertising, of course, but in some respects it does make the process of choosing the right online school more difficult.
Here's why: more than 7,000 U.S. colleges and universities now offer long-distance degree programs -- and about 85% of those are traditional brick-and-mortar schools that have expanded into cyberspace over the past few years. Yet traditional colleges don't have the marketing budgets that the huge for-profit schools have. So unless you actively seek out brick-and-mortar schools' online offerings, you may never know they exist.
"Prospective students should be wary of Internet 'guides' to online education that get paid to promote for-profit schools," says Vicky Phillips. "It's called pay-per-lead advertising, and it means the 'guide' gets X dollars for each person it steers to a for-profit university." Traditional colleges don't have such deep pockets, so thousands of them are unlikely to turn up in such directories at all.
"Not only that, but the for-profit schools have tens of thousands of students, while the online bachelor's-in-business program at a traditional university can only accept, say, 30 at a time," she adds. "So even if traditional colleges could afford to pay for online leads, it wouldn't make sense for them to do so. They're operating on an entirely different scale."
Phillips has been researching and comparing online degree programs for 20 years, which is about as long as they've existed. She runs a consumer-information web site calledGetEducated.com that you might want to check out. The site includes a comparison tool that lets you evaluate and rank schools using 12 different filters. These include type of specialization in your major (business with a minor in finance, for instance); non-profit versus for-profit; secular versus religious (many Christian colleges now offer long-distance learning); and whether the school's programs are 100% online or "hybrids," meaning you'll have to show up in person several times per semester.
Another filter is price. "An online bachelor's degree can cost anywhere from $16,000 to $122,000," Phillips notes. "They are definitely not all alike." GetEducated.com also offers reputation scores based on reviews by current and past students.
In general, Phillips believes online education has gained wide acceptance among employers. "People do worry that companies won't recognize an online degree as equal to the in-person kind," she says. "But our research shows that job interviewers have no problem with it -- as long as they see two things."
First is accreditation by a legitimate accrediting agency -- which can be tricky, since some for-profit schools claim to be accredited by phony agencies they've invented themselves. To make sure any program you're considering is genuinely accredited, check with the Council on Higher Education Accreditation or the U.S. Department of Education.