Online Foreign Distance Degrees – Buyer Beware

The American University System

In the purchase of almost any product or service taking place in the US, laws, regulatory organizations, and the legal system exist to protect such purchases from defect or fraud. Additionally, if such purchases are made with a credit card some credit card sponsors will attempt to refund a purchase if the service or product is misrepresented or fails to function. In the arena of educational services or products, colleges and universities will refund monies paid for programs and coursework not acceptable to a student. The refund must normally be applied for and meet the time standards of course engagement. The more time the student is involved in a course or program the less money he or she will receive as a refund. Prior to engaging the course or program total refunds will provided minus any fees to register. The more time spent in class the less the refund. Accredited US colleges are keenly aware that any violations of ethics or law may result in accreditation problems and will take care to keep the student customer happy. The worst scenario for a university is to find itself in the mass media with accreditation issues or being labeled as misrepresenting their services. Student customers and their families have easy access to attorneys, and the court system to challenge questionable services provided by a college or university. There is a system, structures, and a process protecting the American consumer engaging educational services

Engaging the Online Foreign College Degree

Technology over the last 20 years has made the “bricks and mortar” universities, outdated, overpriced, and terribly inconvenient. Nowadays students may study in real time (synchronous) with the professor providing the lecture while the student raises his icon hand for questions, or watch an asynchronous lecture and send questions to the lecturer via a message board or email. Almost all universities have developed some form of online distance learning platform to serve an ever growing community of student learners. While bad apples exist in the American distance learning environment regulatory and accrediting agencies are on the watch for violations to accreditation status or consumer protection laws. Failure to provide proper structures and platforms for online learners could result in loss of accreditation and consequentially a major loss of revenue; violations of laws in the form of “diploma mills” could result in the closing down of the provider of education and subsequent jail time for those promoting illegal educational activities. For the most part the American structural protections and resulting acceptances of diplomas from accredited institutions are absent as applied to foreign educational institutions. This is by no means to say that foreign credentials are defective or problematic but that one should be especially vigilant when it comes to online distance learning delivery systems emanating from a foreign source. More importantly, one should take super care when specific accrediting agencies, and news reporting organizations support such foreign institutions. Daily and weekly mass media papers and magazines are not involved or equipped in scholarly investigations of institutions identified as number 1 or 1000. Their goal is to sell news and the more newsworthy the better the revenue. A case study is instructive.

A Case Study of the Foreign Doctorate

Program Research and Enrollment

Mr. X after finishing his MBA via an online distance learning accredited American University decided that he wanted to begin his doctorate. What he found was that tuition for accredited American Universities was about $600-700 per credit and he needed about 50-60 credits allowing that the university would accept his credits for the recently completed MBA. The average cost for his American degree would be between $35-45000. The universities offering the degree were not only accredited by the 6 major US accrediting agencies but also by the specific field of business he was interested in. The cost of the degree was substantially less than a “bricks and mortar” university but in a market offering no job prospects it was still excessive. He researched the Internet and found a few less costly but did not satisfy doctoral accreditation (this happens when the accrediting agency has accredited the school but not all the programs). What was found however was a university in Switzerland that offered the online doctorate for one third of the cost of the American.

Mr. X also found that this university was extolled by various new organizations as being the best buy and one of the best in programs. It was also accredited by an elite American accrediting agency for their programs. He contacted the school and raised some questions to ascertain the specific content of the courses in the program and the school provided reasonable answers to the questions. As to the tuition payments there was a 20% deposit and the rest of the payments were to be made in monthly installments of 600 Euros. Before a decision to enroll was made X visited some additional Internet sites looking for some complaints against the school but only found positive news. X applied believing that he had exhausted his research and found only positive results. The costs were low, the program was looked upon favorably by American sources, and the main organization accrediting the programs of this type provided its seal of approval. X received his notice of acceptance, provided his deposit, and was given the green light to begin with the appropriate login information.

Starting and Ending the Program

X who was an experienced online distance learner having been involved in various program delivery platforms, was surprised how much the school’s platform seemed out of sync or problematic. The menu buttons did not work, the login box would go blank after login took place, underlined access points did not activate, typo errors were in existence, identified categories did not exist and there was a general dysfunction to the platform. Online delivery systems usually deliver on one screen. This platform used two screens and if one went to particular items on the menu logout occurred. The school was informed of the problems and instead of an individual replying emails were signed without any name attached. After about 10 days of trying to work the double dysfunctional platform and a slew of nasty email replies insinuating that X’s problems were his own doing X decided that continuing the process would be one massive mental toothache. X requested his deposit back since the system was unmanageable and he could not activate his coursework, assignments, and electronic books and case studies. In essence, he paid for a service which was not provided and was not able to start the course. The school replied with a real person and stated that they would only return one half of the deposit. X reasoned that the costs involved in filing complaints, attorneys pursuing a case on foreign soil against a foreign university would cost more than the loss of the remainder of the deposit. X agreed to take the loss and sever all ties with the school.


From the above real case study individuals interested in pursuing a degree from a foreign school should be mindful of the following:

1. Foreign schools have their own rules, regulations, and laws and are not required to follow any US requirements.

2. Most accredited American universities will provide a return of deposit if the student is not satisfied with a course. The rules are that prior to the start of the course or if there are problems with the course the student must apply for the return. After starting, weeks of involvement in the course lessen the amount returned.

3. Carefully evaluate those who provide commendations for the school. Mass media organizations are interested in revenue and are not qualified to issue pronouncements of how good or bad a school is.

4. Be especially vigilant of deposits and return policies. X’s school provided discounts for higher levels of deposit. Imagine paying $12000 upfront, not being able to access the courses and receiving a percentage of your deposit when you leave.

5. Evaluate the tone of communication from the school. Does it seem friendly, open, and receptive? Or does it send out a signal that the road ahead is not clear or safe?

6. Evaluate how the communication is sent. The communications sent from the school had misspellings and was unsigned indicating a lack of professionalism, business protocol, and respect for the student.

7. Know that foreign educational products and services are not protected and your options are limited for redress. Your possible deposit loss is really not enough to galvanize an attorney to represent you and even if the foreign school goes into your bank account the FBI or the FTC will probably have no interest in prosecution unless a large amount of money is removed from the account.

8. Payments should be made with a credit card that promises to reverse any charges resulting from product or service defects.

9. Do not set up your payment plan to allow the foreign school to deduct tuition automatically.

10. Check to make sure that the school’s accreditation is not only for the school but for your respective program.

11. Research to determine if the school has complaints against it.

12. Do not be surprised that as quickly as the tuition deposit was removed from your bank, you will have to wait days before the partial deposit is returned if it is returned at all.

13. Do not be surprised that the rates of exchange will work against the dollar. You will probably receive your refund when the rate of exchange is in favor of the country supplying it.

14. Do not be surprised that the agreed amount received is incorrect.


Americans for the most part are highly protected when it comes to money. There are federal, state, and private organizations available to protect consumer purchases from defect and failure to provide products and services. These protections are not always available or energized since scams or malfeasant behavior are not dedicated budget items for our various consumer protection agencies. It does not help that excessive trust, tempered with indifference and laziness make the American consumer a stooge for unscrupulous individuals and organizations. If the American consumer would operate under the philosophy of trust no one there is a high probability that he or she would not have to worry about having getting a refund for a defective or undelivered product. If you can be duped, don’t buy.