There is much to be said about choosing to take online courses.
Online education makes a lot of sense for nontraditional students who are working and do not have the time to travel to a campus classroom. It is much more convenient for them to work from home. Many online courses are convenient for traditional students as well because students can work at their own pace, adapting any program for their own needs.
With online education you also avoid many extraneous costs. Such additional costs include room and board, fees, travel, and parking. Thousands of dollars can be saved doing course work online instead of enrolling on a college campus. In addition, one can attend an out-of-state institution without paying the extra non-residence fees.
When you think about it, at least online education is good for the general courses required by colleges. A freshman survey course is pretty much the same online as face-to-face. Why not enroll in general education courses offered by online programs like Straightline? This program requires just a $90 a month fee. Students can take as many courses as they wish in the time frame they set. The only additional cost is a $39 activation fee per course taken.
But, Straightline does not have a regular faculty and is not accredited. That means a student has to earn the credits and then negotiate with an accredited, degree-giving institution. It will cost money to transfer credits and not all credits will be accepted.
So for all the savings one can achieve with some online programs, eventually there does need to be some mixing of reduced-fee online courses with online courses offered by accredited institutions. This is where the savings become less apparent. When students take online courses at accredited colleges or universities, the online tuition cost is often more than the on-campus courses. For example, an MBA student will pay $750 for her online course, but pay only $620 for the same course on campus at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. In fact, according to a Chronicle of Higher Education article in October 2010, 182 colleges were offering their online courses at higher rates than their on-campus programs.
It makes sense. Often with faculty incentives, start-up support, and restructuring, to produce online courses it is more expensive than on-campus classes. Also colleges still have costs, and the money they have from online courses can be diverted to costs like building maintenance and instructors’ fees and not get directed back into online courses, so the quality of an online course may ultimately cost more than the repeated delivery of on-campus classes. And, schools can lose their state monies if they lose on-campus enrollments which their public subsidies are calculated upon. Finally, no school wants to compete with itself. If they lower costs for online education, it may appear their online work is not as good as their on-campus courses. If that is not so, then who would ever attend college on campus!
In addition, online students who mix online work with some class work on campus can be asked to pay a surcharge, not an unusual fee. Such surcharges may mean an additional $200 to $600.
There are definitely pluses and minuses to online education. One thing online education does offer is flexibility, and students can certainly use online course work to benefit them as they need. But, in today’s world, accredited course work that is required to actually earn a degree may end up costing students more.
Make a wise choice about when and how to use online education, and don’t assume it is automatically the least expensive.