University of Phoenix - Scamminess = ???
January 11, 2010 9:20 AM   Subscribe

Is there anything like University of Phoenix, except not a "scam" or a "diploma mill"?

I'd really love to get a degree in computer science (specifically programming/software development) at some point. However, I feel like I would be wasting my time with most traditional university programs for three reasons:

1) My schedule and location really do not permit me to get into a highly structured, scheduled classroom environment, but I have a lot of random free time I could use to take online courses.

2) I cannot and will not take on any student loans. Anything I do at this point needs to be cash-only. My company will reimburse some education expenses, but even something like an "inexpensive" $40,000 degree is pretty much out of the question.

3) I feel like I would be wasting my time working for a degree that is probably half (or more) made up of math, English, or general education courses.

I realize that University of Phoenix is pretty much considered a diploma mill, but it certainly does have the appeal of meeting all criteria I need for a degree. So, is there anything out there that is similar to the UoP, where you take online classes just within your area of study and get a degree?

I realize I might be seeking the Holy Grail and asking too much, but what's the best I can do? Is there an online degree program from an accredited and reputable school that can offer me inexpensive classes with very few general education classes? I don't care if it's a big name or a well-known school. But I do want to actually learn and have it mean something.
posted by joshrholloway to Education (34 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
You could take online courses from an accredited state university, say for example: UT, MTSU anytime, UMUC, OSU ecampus, FSU, Illinois, ASU, etc...
posted by Pollomacho at 9:30 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Check on the Associates degrees or other certifications offered by your local community colleges and see how many classes they really offer online. If you want a bachelor's degree, you will most likely be required to fulfill more General Ed/Liberal Arts type requirements. So, check into taking some CLEP tests for the few non-CompSci classes that are required.

*I don't think UoP meets your second criteria at all. According to my zip code, one four credit class costs $2205 if taken online!
posted by soelo at 9:31 AM on January 11, 2010

Do you have any college background?

Your best bet would be a local community college or state university--almost all of them offer online classes these days. I think you should start out at a community college because most are very affordable, and many will offer payment plans that could help you avoid either having to make a large lump payment or take out loans. Do you mean, literally, cash-only? I hope you're okay with at least paying by check, as that's how most universities and colleges take payments. If you want your bachelor's, and not just a professional certification (also an option) yes, you'll almost undoubtedly have to take math, English, or GE courses, even if you get your entire degree online.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:33 AM on January 11, 2010

Part of the point of a bachelor's degree is the general ed requirements. Saying you have a bachelor's degree is saying "I have a well-rounded education in a variety of areas, and in addition I have specialized education in area X". If you do not want this "well-rounded" part (which is fine, it's not wanted by or needed for everyone), then any bachelor's degree you get without it will be a diploma mill-type place.

So you basically have 3 options, as I see it:

1) take some classes at the online version of a "real" university. You won't be able to say you have a degree, but you will be able to say you took x CS classes at x school.

2) get an Associates degree from a community college. Even in-person, class times are usually very flexible, and a lot of them have online classes now too.

3) Bite the bullet and get a bachelor's. In many (most? all?) states, you can do this quickly after getting an associates from a community college and transferring. This should, in the end, cost significantly less than $40,000, and will give you the opportunity to choose if you want to proceed with the BA after you get the AA.
posted by brainmouse at 9:35 AM on January 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

I went to a traditional university, but I have since met several people who took degrees from UP and they have great jobs.

There are such things as diploma mills, where they do things like look at your "life experience" and award you a degree with little or no work, but UP isn't in this category. They, unlike many, have an accreditation page on their website. Are you sure it wouldn't work for you?
posted by Knowyournuts at 9:36 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Is the University of Phoenix actually a scam? When I hear "scam" I think of the people who send me misspelled e-mails (at a .edu address) that say to call them, send them a check for a few hundred dollars, and they'll send me a doctoral degree. (Which is kind of tempting, sometimes,) My impression was that Phoenix is legitimate but undemanding; apparently their core constituency is people who want to earn a degree because it gives them an automatic or almost-automatic raise at their job.

Seriously, though, taking online classes from a school which has a history of having reputable on-campus programs is probably your best bet.

Note that some universities that push online learning still don't offer every class online every semester. My mother, who recently earned an MBA taking some of her classes on campus and some online, was very frustrated by this.
posted by madcaptenor at 9:40 AM on January 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

I've had some very good results with the O'Reilly School at the U of Illinois. I did a 4-class Unix certificate, but they've got much more extensive programming options as well. The classes were well-structured, the instructors were responsive, and the fees weren't ridiculous, $1400 for four classes.
posted by Oktober at 9:40 AM on January 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

I took online courses from UMUC - the instruction was fine but they did require an in-person final exam in case that's a dealbreaker. Then again, that was 2003 or so, things may have changed.
posted by abulafa at 9:43 AM on January 11, 2010

I believe you have a misunderstanding about University of Phoenix's gen ed requirements for bachelor's degrees, which are similar those of traditional universities (about half your coursework in gen ed, half in your major/concentration). They don't state this very clearly if you look at the program requirements for the various degree programs--it only lists the required coursework for the major.

So, if I'm correct in understanding that you'd have to take some English, math, humanities, etc., anyhow to get a bachelor's out of U of Phoenix (or any other national institution offering online degrees, such as Strayer), you might look into your local state university system and see if they also offer an online bachelor's in the area you're interested in.

You might be able to realize additional cost savings if you can earn transferable credits through online courses offered by a local community college.
posted by drlith at 9:48 AM on January 11, 2010

My not-so-exclusive employer won't interview applicants with degrees from the University of Phoenix or similar institutions. The choice to pay for such a degree is considered a badge of bad decisionmaking of the kind we don't want in our organization.

This is in the context of receiving lots and lots and lots of applications whenever we're hiring, so some initial filters are inevitable. Just keep in mind that employers tend to be pretty savvy about diploma mills, and the atrocious job market is depressing the value of those kinds of degrees even more than normal.

Online coursework or degrees from real state universities, however, are treated with respect. And in-state public school tuition is almost always much cheaper than the private options.
posted by gum at 9:52 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Harvard Extension School offers a lot of online courses in CS.
posted by lsemel at 9:57 AM on January 11, 2010

The University of Illinois at Springfield is starting an online B.S. in Computer Science program that might be of interest to you.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:02 AM on January 11, 2010

Response by poster: Do you have any college background?

I went to college for one year and did very poorly overall. Most of it was that I think I was bored because I was not taking classes in anything I was interested in. Again, the general education thing. I think I might have like 20 credit hours, I'm really not sure.
posted by joshrholloway at 10:07 AM on January 11, 2010

I feel like I would be wasting my time working for a degree that is probably half (or more) made up of math, English, or general education courses.

Then you're looking for a diploma or a certificate. Any degree from a regionally accredited institution (which is what you want) is MANDATED to require a certain percentage of general education courses. Diplomas and certificates do not generally require too many of these classes, if any. However, they're not the same thing as a degree in the job market, and your prospects will be more limited.

I work in higher education. My husband works in IT.
posted by desjardins at 10:07 AM on January 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

I know for a fact that VPs at Computer Sciences Corporation take UP courses for graduate degrees and CSC pays for it.
posted by jgirl at 10:10 AM on January 11, 2010

I went to college for one year and did very poorly overall. Most of it was that I think I was bored because I was not taking classes in anything I was interested in. Again, the general education thing. I think I might have like 20 credit hours, I'm really not sure.

A general piece of advice: if and when you return to school, if it's at all possible, always give yourself a mix of general education and major classes to help keep yourself interested. Also, if a bachelor's is your goal generally (as you might imagine from these responses), you're going to have to swallow your lumps some day and do the work for these classes. I know it's hard--college is a place where you have to be self-motivated, unlike high school--but thems are pretty much the breaks.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:13 AM on January 11, 2010

Response by poster: Also, for everyone defending UoP... I don't have anything against them personally, but I do get the impression (as others have confirmed) that they are seen by many companies and HR departments as a "fake" degree or a poor choice. I don't know exactly why they have this reputation, it's just that I'm aware that it exists.
posted by joshrholloway at 10:21 AM on January 11, 2010

Oh, and just to give you a heads up, in the event that you've never taken online courses before: they vary wildly in terms of workload and quality, even at the same school. Many demand that you're fairly self-directed in terms of work, while some institutions also require you to physically be in an online "classroom" (chatroom) every week, which makes them less flexible in terms of scheduling.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:21 AM on January 11, 2010

If your goal is a bachelor's degree (or higher) then you'll be taking a lot of general requirements. A typical bachelor's degree is about 120 hours, and only 25-30 of that will be part of your major. Brainmouse is absolutely correct about an undergrad degree being evidence of general knowledge as well as some skill in a specific area. It is also evidence that you can stick to a project of this length and get through it. In fact, I sometimes think that's mostly what it is about.

But, if your degree program really interests you, why not take as many of your electives as possible in your degree program? That's what I did, and I think it helped me quite a bit.

UofP isn't a diploma mill. It's just an over-priced, accredited school that offers a lot of degree programs that can be taken entirely online. But it's not your only option for online education. Most brick-and-mortar two- and four-year schools offer online classes these days. And some of them offer entire degree programs online. So, as others have said, you might look to local community colleges and see if they have an entirely-online associate's degree with a CS major. If they don't have one that's entirely online, see if you can find one that has very little face-time required, and go with that.

If you really do think of math, English, and general requirements as a waste of your time, you could instead go for some sort of certificate program. The continuing education departments at most schools offer these. They don't carry the weight of a real degree, but they can be helpful credentials. Disclaimer: I work in higher ed.
posted by wheat at 10:25 AM on January 11, 2010

I took a couple of courses at the University of Phoenix, then moved and went to a state school, and honestly the UofP classes where just as challenging and professional as the other university I went to after.

I would probably avoid the online-only stuff, unless you're very motivated, but I found the in-person classes to be quite excellent.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:43 AM on January 11, 2010

It sounds like a degree program might not be for you. What you might want is some kind of "college classes for working professionals" program offered at night, either at a local state university or sometimes on the campus of a military base or research/engineering laboratory where you could take the technical and computer programming classes you're interested in.
posted by deanc at 10:44 AM on January 11, 2010

University of Phoenix isn't a diploma mill, and it's not a scam. I know someone who teaches at an accredited Canadian university who got one of his related degrees through Phoenix. Any HR department that would consider Phoenix to be a 'lesser' degree isn't an HR department of a company I'd want to work for -- in what other ways would they be less than competent?
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 10:54 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I work in higher education and I can tell you honestly that most brick and mortar universities would kill to have the capabilities University of Phoenix has at its fingertips. First, it's all online with centers around the country staffed by well-meaning people who are only there to serve you as a student; second, it has a very high class completion rate and students tend to be older so the stakes tend to actually be higher in many majors; third, it is competitive with many brick and mortar degree programs. I will say its one major drawback is not having a very big endowment or a very strong alumni base. But, as we've all learned, getting an MA is a bit like having a second job.
posted by parmanparman at 11:27 AM on January 11, 2010

3) I feel like I would be wasting my time working for a degree that is probably half (or more) made up of math, English, or general education courses.

This is a red flag.

I went to college for one year and did very poorly overall. Most of it was that I think I was bored because I was not taking classes in anything I was interested in. Again, the general education thing. I think I might have like 20 credit hours, I'm really not sure.

This is also a red flag. Lots of people take courses that bore them to tears but they're still able to get the work done and receive average to high marks. They also take the time to seek out things that do interest them later on. Do you have the discipline to complete an online course? In my experience, for every on campus credit hour, I had to put in about four hours of work if I wanted a decent grade. Double that if it was an online class, same goes for any of my friends who have taken the distance learning route. If you weren't able to do well in an on campus setting where most of the legwork was done for you, what makes you think that you would succeed in an off campus course?

I guess this was my long-winded way of asking if you are ready to change the habits that led to poor grades last time. From your post, it seems that you're concerned with anything that might be viewed as a waste of time or money. It will all be a waste of time and money if you're not trying to figure out what you really need and blindly taking classes just for the sake of finishing. Figure out what sort of program (certificate vs BA/BS) you want first. Then start shopping for schools.
posted by handabear at 11:43 AM on January 11, 2010 [5 favorites]

Lots of people take courses that bore them to tears but they're still able to get the work done and receive average to high marks.

This is a really good point right here. Many employers look for a BA/BS degree rather than, or in addition to, certificates not because they're excited that their prospective employees know about the Treaty of Westphalia or the reasons trilobites are extinct or what the white whale represents in Moby Dick, but because completing a degree program shows that one can turn one's attention to lots of different things.

If you can't turn your attention to lots of different things, then a certificate program may well be a better fit for you than a degree program.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:06 PM on January 11, 2010

As far as I can tell (disclaimer: I know someone who teaches at UoP), the course work is the same, but it's sheer academic snobbery/reputation that makes it sound like a diploma mill. Also, I get the impression that taking all your work online comes across as bad, somehow. Don't ask me why.

Back to the topic, I agree with handabear: doing any kind of academic program is going to require you to buckle down and do a lot of work in things that don't interest you. Are you absolutely SURE that you are willing to take the bad with the good? And an online class is, in some respects, "easy" to ignore if you aren't interested.
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:23 PM on January 11, 2010

Strayer teaches real content.
posted by y6t5r4e3w2q1 at 12:38 PM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I realize this doesn't answer your questions, but I do believe your premise is an odd one.

I worked for several years as the HR Manager in the Phoenix-Metro area AND as a teachers assistant for a Harvard taught CEO who occassionally teaches at UoP, yet this is the first time I'm hearing that UoP is a "scam" or "diploma mill". My previous housemate, who just got her Masters via UoP, certainly didn't think it was an easy degree to obtain through the school. (Having helped her with her homework, I'm fairly confident she wasn't taking the easy way through education.) You may want to reconsider your opinion of UoP - it could be the answer you are looking for after all.
posted by _paegan_ at 12:56 PM on January 11, 2010

As others have said, I have a friend who got his bachelors entirely online in CS at University of Maryland University College and couldn't be happier. He went to one of the local universities for some final exams that required proctoring, but otherwise everything was done at home at night while working full time in the industry. But he also loved his general education requirements, from the biology labs his did in his kitchen to late night discussions of philosophy online.
posted by hydropsyche at 1:15 PM on January 11, 2010

The University of Texas System will be offering an accelerated bachelor's program this fall. Courses are offered in six to eight week formats instead of full semesters.

Full disclosure: I am affiliated with this project.
posted by spamguy at 1:22 PM on January 11, 2010

Response by poster: Again, I definitely wasn't trying to offend anyone who works for, has attended, or is associated at all with UofP. I was just going mostly by hearsay on the "diploma mill" part, and that was probably too strong a word to use in the first place. That goes for "scam" as well. For that, I apologize.

And yes, I realize I need to address my own motivation issues first. This is not something I'm going to start tomorrow, I'm just trying to gather some information right now. The biggest thing I was trying to accomplish with an actual degree vs. a certificate or just taking some random classes was having a grade as a motivation to continue and do well. Maybe I'm looking at it upside-down.

Nevertheless, thanks to everyone for all the suggestions. They have been very helpful, really.
posted by joshrholloway at 2:24 PM on January 11, 2010

Are you looking for a Comp.Sci degree to get a job? If so, then reconsider. I know the word "computer" is in there, but it has almost nothing to do with the life of a professional programmer. I've been one for 20 years, and I've hired *many* programmers.

I am *not* saying that a Compy. Sci degree is worthless, I'm asking the OP to look at why he wants one.

That said, here's how to get a programming job, in my experience:

- If you like programming, and can already program, go do it. Publicly. Contribute to open source projects. Participate in open-source communities. Help people. Blog about it. You'll get plenty of "cred" and offers of jobs, in less time than a degree would take.

- If you can't program, are you sure you like it? It is kind of a specialized thing. It needs a certain love of problem solving and paranoia. Real world business programming also takes some experience interpreting what people are saying. Are you really really sure? If so, take classes and then see my first point.

- Excel VBA, Powerpoint, Access (tempted to add Visual Basic here, but that's just mean, they try, they just have no clue) does not count when determining if you like to program, nor do they help you get a programming job. Yes it may be useful for a businessperson, but it has absolutely nothing to do with a professional programmer's job.

- Possibly, possibly, it might be worth it to get a certification in some language or technology to help get that first job. As a hiring manager, I ignored them. I wanted experience, passion, and demonstrated ability to do the job.

The fact is, most companies ignore Comp. Sci degrees when hiring programmers. Comp. Sci has little to nothing to do with the ability to assist business to write programs that assist them.

I hope you follow your passion. If that is truly to get a C.S. degree, do it. If you are trying to become a professional programmer, bad path, no joke.
posted by Invoke at 5:14 PM on January 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Do not consider university of liverpool / KIT / Laureate (all the same people) ... I used to work there ... legit degree, but the academic standard was appalling.
posted by jannw at 7:13 AM on January 12, 2010

If you decide to go for a BA/BS, consider either testing out of some Gen Ed requirements, using your prior college courses towards them (if they are recent enough) or taking some courses online and transferring them in.

I'm 2/3 of the way through a Brigham-Young Independent Study course, and I quite like it. BYU's IS classes are entirely independent study (no class meetings) and cost me about $600 for 3 credits.

However, it does seem like a BA is not your style so you may be better off looking at certificates.
posted by subbes at 7:29 AM on January 15, 2010

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