YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


A Primer on Correspondence Programs

January 13, 1994|MARY LAINE YARBER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Mary Laine Yarber teaches English at Santa Monica High School

I get a lot of phone calls and letters from readers curious about correspondence courses. Most want to know if such courses are "real," and how to tell the legitimate ones from the scams.

Although there are some bad apples in the bunch, many schools offering correspondence programs are worthwhile and credible. Indeed, the last couple of decades have brought a sharp increase in the number of such schools.

Many educational goals can be accomplished through the mail. You can, for example, take courses on nearly any subject found on a regular campus. You can also earn various professional certifications and all types of college degrees--from the two-year associate's degree to a doctorate or law degree.

In fact, home study takes many forms. The most common is correspondence--the student receives study materials, assignments and tests in the mail from a particular college or school, then sends back the completed work to be graded.

Thanks to recent technology, however, many home study programs now use more interesting methods. Teaching courses via cable TV hookup or by videotape has become popular. So has using computer software and communicating with the school from home with a computer modem.

Home study programs generally entail admission requirements that are less harsh and complicated than those of traditional schools; many don't even require the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or other entrance exams.

The master's program offered by California State University at Dominguez Hills in Carson is fairly typical of credible correspondence education programs.

The Cal State program offers a master's in five subjects, and all work is done through home study (projects, papers, and a thesis or creative project). Instructors guide students by telephone, mail and cassette, and grading is based largely on written assignments.

Cal State requires at least 30 hours for the master's; a full-time student can complete it in a year or so. And, since Cal State is a public university, the course of study is about as inexpensive as they come (about $1,500 for the whole program). Also important: Cal State schools are well-respected and accredited, and Dominguez Hills' correspondence program has been in operation for decades.

If you're interested in a correspondence course or degree, bear in mind that not all programs are like Cal State's. Be sure to ask questions before enrolling to find the program that's right for you.

First, ask the school's representative how long the school has existed. Of course, it's possible that a new school may be excellent, but a fairly decent history is usually preferable.

Find out about the instructors' backgrounds too. Do they have degrees, specialized training or job experience in the subjects they'll be teaching?

Make sure you find out all the required courses and costs, to avoid surprises down the road. Get that in writing too; any school that won't provide a written course of study and payment plan should be pulled from your pool right away.

For a list of school accreditation agencies, write to the Council on Postsecondary Accreditation, 1 Dupont Circle North, Suite 760, Washington, D.C. 20036, or the Department of Education, Division of Eligibility and Agency Evaluation, Washington, D.C. 20202.

Another reliable accreditation agency for vocational schools and degree-by-mail schools nationwide is the National Home Study Council, at 1601 18th Street Northwest, Washington, D.C. 20009.

Los Angeles Times Articles