It is no secret that the average cost of college has long been on an upward trend and continues to rise steeply. This year students are looking at paying more than $20,000 to attend college for a single year. Granted, this includes tuition, room and board, fees, transportation and all other expenses combined. Still, this is a hefty fee that has actually almost doubled over the last 10 years and increased by more than 6 times over the last 30 years.
This high cost of college is causing many students to drop out of school. In fact only about half of all college students will earn a degree, based on the current statistics. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development the U.S. ranks last of the advanced nations as far as the percentage of students who graduate college after enrolling. The main reason for this high attrition rate is the inability of students to afford college and support themselves, and in some cases their families, at the same time.
One avenue of relief may be the increasing availability of online courses. Historically the problem with online learning, however, has been the negative stigma associated with it. The question is, has the increased availability of online courses blunted some of the negative connotation associated with them? More than two-thirds of all U.S. colleges now offer online courses. More than one-third of them offer entire online degrees. Last year more than 6 million students were enrolled in an online course. Ten years ago less than ten percent of students took an online class; now almost one-third of all students will take at least one and there are almost 2 million students taking all of their classes online.
This increase in online enrollment has not entirely alleviated the inferior status given to online learning, but it has definitely changed the opinion of many. More than two-thirds of employers surveyed said they still preferred traditional degrees, but an ever larger majority have become more accepting of online degrees. In one study 83% of those surveyed stated that an online degree is just as credible as a traditional degree. And what of college professor’s themselves? Well, turns out it depends on whether they’ve taught one or not. Two-thirds of those that had NOT taught an online course felt they were inferior compared to just over one-third of those that HAD taught an online course. Probably the best summary on the subject was given by Julianna Gilbert, executive director of the Office of Teaching and Learning at the University of Denver, who said that just like in traditional courses, the success of the course is dependent on the quality of the instructor.
The discussion now goes full circle; will taking courses online or even earning an entire degree online be more cost beneficial, thus reducing the need to drop out? Generally speaking, tuition costs appear slightly higher for online courses than for traditional ones. There are exceptions in both directions, however, with some institutions charging less for online than for traditional courses and others charging significantly more for online than traditional. Financially speaking there are some great advantages to online schooling. The savings in travel, room and board, parking, and many other areas can be substantial. Another advantage is that the courses can be completed at an accelerated rate at a savings in most cases. The only significant disadvantage financially is that there are less scholarships and grants available to those completing online degrees than if they were taking the traditional route. When all is said and done, the majority of people completing online degrees spend less money than if they had earned them by attending face-to-face classes.
Of course there are the other advantages to taking classes online; namely the convenience of scheduling. Online classes offer so much more freedom for those with full time jobs and/or families to arrange their classes around their busy schedules. The downside of online courses, as recognized by most educators, is that they require so much more self discipline. In many cases they are considered much more difficult because there are no set schedules and thus require a much higher level of self direction and motivation; qualities often deficient in younger students especially. This may explain why the majority of students enrolled in online courses are older; usually in the 23 to 40 age range.
Darrel Casperson, Career Resource Educator