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Don't offer me a money back guarantee
just answer my email

By Lisa Neal Gualtieri / August 2008

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Taking an online course takes time. A poorly designed course, or one that doesn't teach effectively, means lost time that can never be recovered. Time is one of the most precious commodities we have, but in our current economic climate, especially, cost matters too. So I wondered what happens when online students want a refund—or even seek out programs offering a money back guarantee.

I easily located a number of such programs through a search. They varied from those offering a single course (stress reduction—easy to measure one's subjective satisfaction with the outcome) to some with much larger programs. I emailed a dozen or so to ask "Can you please provide some information about how many students took your courses in a particular time period, such as 2007, and how many requested a money back guarantee?" I also contacted the University of Phoenix and Trump University, since I receive their promotional information all the time, and Goucher College, where I just conducted a review of one of their online master's programs. Since none offers a guarantee that I could find, I asked what happens if someone requests a refund because they are dissatisfied.

First lesson learned: It is not always easy to find an email address to contact someone.

Second lesson learned: When you successfully locate an email address and send a polite question (I identified myself, of course), most programs won't respond. Actually, only one program responded within 24 hours and one other within 48 hours. Even a week later, that was it.

Here's what I learned from my first respondent, Scott Sampson at He told me that they "had slightly over 5,000 students who purchased a paid subscription in 2007, and had a total of 16 people who requested (and received) a full refund." does not require a student to give a reason for requesting a refund. Scott went on to say, "In general, the reasons have varied from 'It's not what I thought it was,' to 'I'm really not ready to take training courses at this time' (time or financial reasons), to 'the courses were too complicated for me', etc." They do not track if people actually complete courses and their "most popular courses include CompTIA A+, Microsoft Certifications, Web Design and Development, and Microsoft Office courses."

Scott concluded with the lovely "Glad we could help."

Mimi Jakobe at Goucher College also responded to my query, which had been forwarded to her by Fred Mauk, associate dean for graduate and professional studies. She told me that she did not know of any student ever requesting a refund.

Of course, it is August and many people are on vacation (I wish I was too). My emails might still be sitting unopened. But it's a time of year when many people's thoughts turn to education. While I'm not sure a money back guarantee would sway my decision to select one program over another, I imagine it does for some. In any case, responsiveness is essential. If I was enrolling in an online course, I would want to be confident that my emails, whether for support or anything else, will be promptly answered.


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