The distance learning sector in South Africa continues to grow apace, as prospective students seek alternative pathways to costly full-time, in-person university studies. But with this growth has come the proverbial explosion of offerings on the market, many of which are unable to deliver on their promises.

While the advice to prospective students has always been to ensure proper due diligence, in particularly the checking of an institution’s credentials, that in itself is not enough to ensure a successful study experience, an expert says.

“As the recent events surrounding the Educor group and its deregistration show, prospective students really need to do their homework before enrolling with a specific distance learning institution, and checking credentials is not enough. They did indeed have their credentials, until they didn’t, which left thousands of students in the lurch,” says Siyavuya Makubalo, marketing manager at Oxbridge Academy, the distance learning brand of AdvTech.

Makubalo says the first step for prospective students remains to check the registration and accreditation of an institution. If things don’t check out, they should immediately be scrapped from the list.

However, in addition to this first non-negotiable, there are other steps prospective students must take to vet an institution. These include an evaluation of:

* Reputation and track record: Research the institution’s reputation and track record. Seek out colleges with a proven history of student success, who are able to regularly showcase alumni and their success stories. Institutions that prioritise academic excellence and provide work-focused materials promptly are more likely to support your learning journey effectively. Try to make contact with current and past students, and speak to them about their experience. Ideally, the institution should also be part of a bigger education group with a history of excellence.

* Commitment to student success: If an institution cannot demonstrate its track record of helping students achieve their goals, consider other options. Accessible student support is crucial. Look for institutions that offer readily available assistance. Whether it’s academic guidance or technical support, ensure that you won’t be left feeling stranded during your studies.

* Logistical aspects: Does the institution have efficient processes for course delivery, assessment and communication? Consider factors like technology infrastructure, administrative support and responsiveness. If they are unresponsive during you enquiries, assume they will become even more so after you have signed on the dotted line.

* Return on investment: Understand the total impact on your pocket. Distance learning can be cost-effective, but it’s essential to consider tuition fees, study materials and any additional costs. Weigh the value you’ll receive against the investment. A reputable institution that provides quality, skills-focused education and robust support is worth your time and money.

“When an institution fails to deliver on its commitments, students face disruptions in their learning journey. Delayed study materials, inadequate support, sup-par curricula and logistical holdups can hinder progress and cause frustration and ultimately unsuccessful outcomes,” says Makubalo.

“When considering your choice of distance learning institution then, it is important to consider more than merely a college’s credentials, but also its ability to provide an education that is worth investing in, to ensure you are able to be successful and make a start in the career of your dreams.”