T.J. Gentry wrote:I am interested in what the forum thinks regarding the essentials of a good UA program.
It depends on what you're looking for.
If you don't have a degree objective and are just seeking education for its own sake, then it's pretty much up to you. Does a particular program offer subjects that are of interest to you? What kind of approach does it take to those subjects? Who teaches the classes and what are their reputations? Does the content appear to be at an appropriate level and not too crankish? What are others in your field saying about the school and the program? Taking individual DL classes is kind of like reading a book, I guess, except more interactive. Oftentimes we find that books that initially looked good aren't very helpful. If university level classes don't turn out to be helpful, then you can always drop them and move on.
If you do have a degree objective, then the fact that the school that awards the degrees isn't accredited is much more problematic.
What you need to be looking for in that case is reputation, I guess. Who takes the school seriously? You can get a feeling for that by using Google and by doing some searches. Do searches for mentions of the school and programs on .edu domains to see what other universities are saying about it. It's generally a law of nature - if a school awards advanced degrees, especially doctorates, then other schools offering similar subjects will take notice. They will include the program on lists of programs, they will refer to work being done in the program and they will oftentimes collaborate with its faculty on various projects.
Don't just count .edu hits though, you need to actually look at what people are saying. A few legitimate universities run poorly-moderated public discussion forums and mills post their school's name on these to generate .edu hits. And there's Academia.edu, a social networking site for academics, that mills use to get their names into .edu searches. So be discerning.
Do searches for the school and program on .gov sites to see what various government agencies are saying about them. Look for significant indications of academic substance like grants awarded. Do a search on Google scholar for academic publications that have the school listed as the author's institutional affiliation.
Generally speaking, I think that it's safe to say that the stronger the reputational signature a school presents, the more success its graduate are likely to have in professional acceptance and hiring. That's true for accredited schools as well as unaccredited ones.
Here's an old thread about what I consider America's best currently-unaccredited PhD program:viewtopic.php?f=2&t=2208&p=19242
I'm still hoping that they can produce the first California-approved Nobel Prize before they are eventually accredited by WASC. One of their scientists has already won the prestigious Japan Prize for his work on explaining the mechanisms of cell adhesion.