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Online Degree Complaints

Updated on April 8, 2015
The largest of the online schools is University of Phoenix. They also have physical campuses in many locations.
The largest of the online schools is University of Phoenix. They also have physical campuses in many locations.

What is Important, What is not Important?

One thing every prospective student (online or on-campus) should do is investigate complaints from former students. This article addresses how to effectively use online rating forums and complaint boards to assist in the evaluation process.

Resources to Locate Complaints

The biggest complaint boards are:

Some of the best college review sites (by students) are:

To Avoid: (collects a lot of personal information, then gives an irrelevant list of schools in return)

Learn about Online Education

Online Education For Dummies
Online Education For Dummies

Okay, this book is as good as it gets. 11 reviews, and all are 5 stars. This is unheard of. Plus, the for Dummies series has a history of excellence and clarity.


Site Review vs Peer Review

Many sites review online programs according to their own set of requisites and equations. More informational, however, for the prospective student, are sites that allow students to post reviews.

There is a conflict of interest in the case of online review sites using their own criteria. These sites are certainly for-profit. They make their money either by referrals or through ad revenue. Either way, their ultimate "employer" is the pool of colleges themselves. These may still be helpful and informative. But, the criteria for evaluation should be carefully analyzed and understood.

Regarding peer-review sites, these also have some problems.

A Map of the Physical Campus of Ashford University

Problems with Student Complaint and Review Sites

The best sites are generic complaint boards covering more than just academic services. Sites like pissedoffconsumer and complaintsboard are large and easy to navigate.

What they lack, however, is a staff to filter the legitimate from the crazy. As great as 20% of complaints on some boards are from people who never attended the schools. Their complaints are about too many phone calls from recruiters, problems with the application process, and an inability to access financial aid.

Exacerbating the issue, most of these non-students rate zeros and ones. When a prospective student arrives to evaluate the school, he or she may see the first 4 or 5 complaints, or only the titles of those complaints. And, the thing catching everyone's gaze: the "Overall Rating", typically on a 5 star scale. This 5-star format is very common. Everyone knows what it is, and they note it carefully. However, the wise, careful researcher will consider the artificially low rating caused by those people who never attended.

If you really want to get a good feeling of the school using a complaint forum, consider this: Read each of the first 10 or so posts. Eliminate the non-student ratings. Then, calculate the average score for yourself. This requires a little time, so this is something to do after you have narrowed your search to a final-elimination round of potential programs. Also consider weighting the most recent reviews. Programs and administrators change; the quality of a university can improve.

7 Largest Online Universities

Graduation Rate (%)
University of Phoenix
Liberty University
University of Maryland
Grand Canyon University

Consider the Number of Complaints AND Student Body Size

You will find that some colleges have more complaints than others. However, you also need to consider the total size of the campuses you are researching. If College A has twice as many legitimate complaints as University B, and also has double the students, then those two institutions are about equal when considering complaints.

The largest programs should have the greatest number of complaints. The following is a table of the largest student sizes.

In Considering Online College Reviews, Weight More Recent Reviews

Most online programs are for-profit. These are run by business people. The art of the business manager is efficiency, delivering a quality product, promoting repeat business, and generally constantly improving the business practice.

During my two years at Ashford University, for example, I saw several improvements to the online platform, the advisor panel, and the course format. The most recent 10 reviewers rated AU as follows: a 5 on three criteria (6 people); all 5's with one 4 (2) and one reviewer gave 13 out of 15 and 12 out of 15. So, the most recent 10 (per a visit to on February 11, 2012) averaged 14.3 out of 15 (95.3%). The overall average from 304 reviewers was 12 out of 15 (80%). Ashford is a relatively new program. It started in 2005. It may be an exception to this improvement.

The main lesson here is this: Some of the data on review sites is much less important than other data. Reviews from non-students are irrelevant. The most recent reviews are more indicative of what a new student should expect to find than are reviews from 4 years ago.

Are Online Degree Complaints Realistic?

If you perused complaints against schools you are considering, what is your opinion on their validity?

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