OnlineSchools.org Site Review
OnlineSchools.org is a resource for distance education for K through PhD students. We searched the site to see who was taking credit for it, and we got no information other than the royal “we” used on so many sites whose owners are not interested in public acknowledgment. An online search (which we do for all sites not identifying the owner) gave us some concerning results. One series of articles in particular, published on itworld.com in December of 2012 (see links below), talks about OnlineSchools.org’s policy of using infographics and other SEO sources to increase traffic to its site and boost its Google income. Another article in the same series identifies Consumer Marketing Network of Houston, Texas, as the owner of the site, and states that CMN also owns a number of other sites such as CollegeDegrees.com, CollegeAtHome.com, BestCollegesOnline.com, ZenCollegeLife.com, and apparently others, all in the same line of business.
What that line of business purports to be is helping students find online educational opportunities. But is it really? All of the above sites have exactly the same college/degree program search feature, a drop-down menu asking for your desired degree level, degree category (a short list of major areas), and subject (specific majors in each area). Clicking on “Find Your Program Now”/”Search Colleges”/”Find a School/etc. will bring you to a page with one result. We alternately got three college names from all these sites: either the University of Phoenix, Full Sail University, or Kaplan University, all for-profit online schools. At first glance, the left-hand sidebar on this page (again, for all these sites) looks as though you can provide additional information for a more targeted search. Not so. Read the fine print at the bottom of the sidebar and you’ll discover that you are about to agree to receive phone calls from one of these colleges to talk about their products. There’s also no real way to navigate away from this page. Unless you hit the back arrow, you’re stuck here.
To be fair, though, there are other sections of OnlineSchools.org that look pretty decent, if not entirely filled with shiny new information. The College and Graduate links under the Higher Education tab at the top of the home page take you to pages that look pretty much identical. The introductory text is different, but the college finder and everything below that is largely the same. The college finder looks like it will actually give you a list of colleges instead of just one. Disappointingly, the links to the first seven colleges appearing on our list took us to the details of online degree programs with a 100% acceptance rate, which implies that anyone who can pay can get in. But there are other colleges on the list not in this category, if that’s what you’re here for.
We, however, are interested in scholarships, and where are they? We were actually contacted by an education researcher who works on this site, giving us the URL for the scholarship section and asking us to take a look. When we went to the site, we could find nothing that indicated where the scholarship section was, or that there even was one, though clearly there was—we had the URL for it. We finally located the links at the bottom of the College page under Learning Resources > Financial Aid. If you fall into any of the listed categories (soldiers/veterans, adults and working parents, disabled, or minority), these pages contain wonderful listings of scholarships. Each listing explains Who Is Eligible, What [the scholarship] Covers, How To Apply, and a link to the sponsoring organization’s website. (Not all of the listings on these pages are scholarships, however, so read the fine print carefully before you apply.) Most of the scholarships listed in these categories—not surprisingly—are applicable to online programs. Oddly, these four pages, although thematically similar, are formatted differently, which doesn’t really jibe with the otherwise very professional look of the site.
In addition to the splendid scholarship listings, OnlineSchools.org also has a section on open-access journal databases available for college research. This is a wonderful resource that is mentioned regularly in Google searches for OnlineSchools.org. (This is where we got the URL for this section.) We had to search for what turns out to be only a whisper of its location on the site. Once again, it’s at the bottom of the College page under Learning Resources > Academic Advisor. In fact, all of the seven links listed here go to some terrific and valuable information: a citation guide, an article about MOOCs, the science of taking breaks from study, a writing guide, and ways to succeed with your college application through non-cognitive measures, in addition to the open-access journal databases.
We spent a lot of time looking at OnlineSchools.org because it reflects some of the worst aspects of college search engines and some of the best. Sadly, the best aspects of the site are all but hidden from view while the worst squat fatly on the home page just ready to make a bad impression. Although OnlineSchools.org may have corrected some of the problems mentioned in the itworld.com articles, there’s nothing else on the site to indicate that there’s anything other than business as usual going on here. Why relegate the most valuable information on the site, and the information most likely to attract traffic (for good reason) to an obscure spot at the bottom of a page, treating it almost like an afterthought? Our supposition involves dollar signs.
This site could be good, really good. But instead, like its sister sites, it has all the appearances of a conduit for certain for-profit educational institutions looking for paying students. By all means check out OnlineSchools.org for the really good information it has. Go to the bottom of the College page and scroll down to Learning Resources. That’s where the good links are, and from there the good stuff. And for heaven’s sake, stay away from that “search” box lurking on the Home page.
We gave this site 2 out of 5: