RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - If you're an adult looking to earn your high school diploma, taking a course online may seem like the most convenient method. But if you're not careful, you could be wasting your time and money.
Joyce Banks says it was a moment years in the making, she finally earned her high school diploma. "I am disabled and wanted to show my kids that I could do better for myself," she said. Finally, success, when it arrived in the mail after she completed an online course. But that feeling of accomplishment quickly turned into heartache. When she took her diploma to enroll in college, it was rejected. "It crushed me, and when I called the school back to tell them they were not accredited, they started hanging up on me," Banks says.
She took her online course with South Brook Academy. After reporting her experience as fraud to her bank, it returned the funds. Banks called NBC12 to warn others. We emailed the school to get some answers and each time, our email bounced back as undeliverable. We also called the number on its website several times and only got a call center. When we asked to speak with someone in charge, we were hung up on.
According to South Brook Academy's website, the school is located in Puerto Rico. We also checked with the Better Business Bureau. The organization says it doesn't have any complaints locally and is investigating.
NBC12 also checked with U.S. Department of Education. On its site, it warns about schools offering bogus degrees. The agency advises students and parents to check with their state department of education to determine if a program is recognized and accredited in their state.
Mike Nusbaum with the Virginia Department of Education says there are no online high school diploma programs accredited by the state. He says Banks is not alone. He gets similar complaints almost daily. "Most of them are pitiful, sad stories where they have already put out 15-hundred dollars and they can't understand what to do next," he says.
Nusbaum advises people to steer clear of online high school diplomas. Your safest bet is to check with your county's school district or adult education program. Also, check with the prospective college or future employer to see if they will recognize the degree before you pay. "Do a lot of research before you put your money out there because some places you may not be able to get your money back and it's a hurtful feeling when you are trying to better yourself," Banks says. She says she'll continue to explore her options and hopes her story is a teaching tool for others. The Virginia Department of Education says keep in mind a GED is also a good option.