Can You Get a Groupon for College?

Lori Johnston | September 14, 2011

Site Offers its First Discount on College Tuition

Groupon keeps reminding me about two purchases I’ve made – two-for-one movie tickets from Fandango and a half-off deal for a photo album that I haven’t gotten around to creating. It’s also helped me take part in unique events, such as a barbecue lunch with the Neelys from Food Network and a symphony performance under the stars.

The other day, a Groupon deal showed me that the trendy site has the potential to remind some folks of their dream to finish their degree or go back to school to pursue a new career or get advanced education.

Groupon was offering more than 50 percent off a $2,232 graduate-level introductory teaching course at National Louis University in Chicago (the Groupon price was $950).

Surprise – a school actually lowered a price for students! In these days of bargain hunting and discount seeking, it seems that a college education is one of the few places where individuals seem resigned to pay higher and higher prices. I’ve seen friends invest in starting a master’s degree, only to find they can’t afford to continue the program or can’t juggle it with jobs and family (and refunds aren’t available for those courses).

The idea of purchasing something like education on Groupon may be a bit “out there,” and maybe the school only did it for publicity, but it is refreshing to see a school willing and able to lower its price on a course.

It got a lot of attention because it’s the first time the “deal is on” coupon site has offered a deal on tuition that counts for academic credit. The school says 18 individuals purchased the Groupon.

Dr. Nivine Megahed, president of National Louis University, said in a press release: “This deal will give participating students a chance to take one course and see if they are ready to make the time and financial commitment to follow through with the entire graduate program.”

Students need an undergraduate degree to be involved in the 10-week course, which counts toward three credit hours, of a 36-hour master’s degree from the school.

University officials told the AP that many of its students – the average age is 34 – are part of Groupon’s target demographics. So adult learners could be seeing more of this, via Groupon, or from other coupon sites. It could be a bonus for students already in pursuit of a certain degree, or it could be just the thing, even if you don’t get that deal, to make you reconsider college.

What do you think? Would you ever buy a Groupon for school?

-Lori Johnston

You Know You’re Attending a Diploma Mill If…

Robyn Tellefsen | August 31, 2011

It’s so hard to tell what’s for real these days. If you’re going to spend money on a diamond, you want to make sure you don’t leave the store with cubic zirconia. If you’re purchasing a rare autograph, you don’t want to drop cash for a fraud. And if you’re paying good money for a college education, it’s important that it be worth more than the paper your diploma is printed on. So how do you know if your school is the real deal and not a diploma mill? Here are a few red flags to look out for.

>> It’s not accredited. In the U.S., accreditation is the main way we can tell that a school or program is up to snuff. Accreditation basically means the school or program has completed a rigorous process of self-examination and peer review. If the school you’re attending hasn’t been accredited, that means there’s no authority figure double-checking the quality of the education you’re getting. You’re basically out there on your own – and the neighborhood may not be the greatest. (Note: Just because a school is not accredited does not mean the school is a diploma mill. There are legitimate institutions out there that are not accredited, or are not yet accredited – just be very careful if you go this route. No accreditation means no federal or state financial aid, among other things.)

>> It’s accredited by an unrecognized (or even fake) accrediting agency. Unless you’re paying really close attention, you probably have no idea which accrediting agencies are legit and which ones are counterfeit. There’s an easy way to tell which ones are on the up and up – just check this list of organizations that are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). If your school is accredited by an organization that’s not on this list – or worse, one that has an eerily similar name – the accreditation might be meaningless.

>> It’s accredited by a foreign accrediting agency. USDE and CHEA do not recognize foreign accrediting agencies, so if your school’s endorsement comes from Dubai Degrees R Us, beware. A foreign diploma mill might claim to be operating under the approval of the education ministry of its country when in fact it has never been officially reviewed or sanctioned. You don’t have to stay in the U.S. to get a nationally recognized degree, though – approved accrediting agencies (like AACSB International –The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) accredit foreign institutions, too.

There are other ways to spot a diploma mill – degrees based on life experience, super-short programs, flat-fee degrees – but lack of proper accreditation is a solid indicator that something is amiss or that you need to tread very carefully. You can go the unaccredited route if you really want to, but there’s a lot at stake: financial aid, academic credit transfer, tuition assistance from your employer, eligibility to apply for professional licensure… Why not save yourself the headache (and wasted time and money) by choosing a properly accredited program from the get-go?

-Robyn Tellefsen

Applying to college is not a one-size-fits-all-experience… and when you don’t fit the mold of the traditional 18-year-old college student, that’s a good thing. Whether you’re in your 20s or you’re approaching centenarian status, chances are that traditional college admissions policies and procedures don’t apply to you. Before you get started on your back-to-school journey, check out our cheat sheet of top nontraditional student application to-knows.

1. You can apply on a roll…
If you haven’t had the luxury of planning your college applications for years, you’ll be happy to learn that many programs for nontraditional students accept applications up to and even after the semester start date. Don’t hesitate to take advantage of rolling admissions policies or even “one-stop” admissions events that allow you to apply and enroll on the same day.

2. Entrance exams may be extinct.
Many colleges do not require adult students to take traditional entrance exams like the SAT or ACT, says Shawn O’Riley, executive director of University College at Adelphi University. “Those exams are meant for high school students and don’t always reflect adults’ academic ability after they have been away from school for a long time.” Some adult degree programs measure college preparedness through computer-adaptive college placement tests (e.g., COMPASS by ACT; ACCUPLACER by the College Board) that are geared specifically toward nontraditional students.

3. You can get $$$ from Uncle Sam.
Even if you’re going back to school less than half time, you may still qualify for a Pell Grant or Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, or for the Federal Work Study or Federal Perkins Loan programs. You may also be able to benefit from employer tuition assistance if you’re working full time. Tip: If you’re married or over 24 years old, parental income won’t be a factor on your FAFSA.

4. Start dates may be flexible.
“Adult degree programs often offer schedules that better fit an adult student’s lifestyle,” says O’Riley. Nontraditional students at Adelphi who are unable to enroll in August can take advantage of the university’s late-start semester, which begins in October. Community colleges across the country offer similar kinds of late-start courses.

5. The Ivies are not out of reach.
Take the Eli Whitney Students Program at Yale, for example. Eli Whitney (i.e., nontraditional) students have virtually the same opportunities as all other undergrads at Yale but, unlike other Yalies, nontraditional students can choose to school part time. And Columbia University’s School of General Studies is designed specifically for nontraditional students seeking a rigorous Ivy League degree full or part time.

6. You can get credit for what you already know.
Plenty of schools that cater to adult students offer prior learning assessment programs that award college credit for what students have learned outside the classroom, whether through corporate training, work experience, civic activity, or independent study. “[Prior learning assessment] allows students to reduce the overall cost of their degree program and accelerate their degree completion,” says O’Riley. In addition, your school may have special policies in place to assist nontraditional students in transferring previously earned college credit.

7. You might be more traditional than you think.
Colleges and universities may differ in their definition of what constitutes a “nontraditional student,” though most require that you be out of high school or college for at least five years to apply for nontraditional student admission. The University of Utah considers “nontraditional students” those who have been out of high school seven years or more and have no previous college experience. Some schools, like Trinity University in Texas, recommend that nontraditional students apply after completing at least two semesters of full-time studies at another college. Make sure you meet the specific “nontraditional” definition before applying to a particular school.

Enjoy your academic adventure!

–Robyn Tellefsen

Scholarships and Other Stuff for Older Women

Robyn Tellefsen | February 10, 2011

According to the AARP, women are less likely to have enough money in the second half of their lives because of lower earnings and different work patterns (Translation: staying home with the kids). Another report states that 8.1 percent of women are currently unemployed. But there’s good news – a variety of organizations are making it a priority to support older women in their career and education pursuits. Here are a few:

Send One Suit Weekend
Dressbarn, a leading national retailer of women’s clothing, is teaming up with the nonprofit organization Dress for Success and its partners for its 9th annual Send One Suit Weekend. The goal? To give underprivileged women across the country the ability to walk into a job interview with confidence through the transformative power of professional attire. Through the campaign, low-income women looking to re-enter the workforce benefit from donations of gently used suits, pants, shirts, skirts, shoes, and other professional items.
Learn more:

Dates: February 24-27, 2011

Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund
The Jeannette Rankin Foundation awards scholarships to low-income women 35 and older in order to help them secure careers and break the cycle of poverty. Applicants must be enrolled in or accepted to an accredited school where they will pursue a technical or vocational education, an associate degree, or a first bachelor’s degree. Scholarship recipients are selected on the basis of their goals, their plan for reaching those goals, challenges they may have faced, and their financial situation.
Download an application:
Scholarship deadline: March 1, 2011

AARP Women’s Scholarship Program
AARP Foundation’s Women’s Scholarship Program provides scholarship funds to women 40 and older who have limited financial resources and who are seeking new job skills, training, and educational opportunities. Awards range from $500 to $5,000, depending on financial need and the cost of the education or training program. Scholarship winners also receive mentoring services during their first year of school. All recipients must be enrolled in an accredited school or technical program within six months of receiving the award. Previous recipients may reapply fora second year of assistance.
Apply online:
Scholarship deadline: March 31, 2011

AAUW Career Development Grants
The American Association of University Women’s Career Development Grants support women who hold a bachelor’s degree and are preparing to advance their careers, change careers, or re-enter the work force. These one-time awards range from $2,000 to $12,000. Special consideration is given to women of color and to women pursuing their first advanced degree or credentials in nontraditional fields. Grants provide support for course work in a master’s degree or second bachelor’s degree program – no PhDs – or for specialized training in technical or professional fields. Funds are available for distance learning as well.
Apply online:
Annual scholarship deadline: Mid-December

Talbots Women’s Scholarships
The Talbots Charitable Foundation offers its scholarship program to women pursuing a college degree later in life, awarding 10 $15,000 scholarships and one $30,000 Nancy Talbot Scholarship Award. To be considered for an award, you must have earned a high school diploma or GED at least 10 years prior to application. You must also be enrolled or planning to enroll in an undergraduate course of study for the full upcoming academic year. Scholarship winners also receive gift cards from Talbots, Borders, and Office Depot, as well as a backpack filled with Office Depot supplies, and the Reinvention Resumé Plus eKit, a step-by-step tool to develop resumés and cover letters.
Get more info:
Annual scholarship deadline: Mid-January

It’s never too late to get back in the career saddle, ladies!

-Robyn Tellefsen