We are in the midst of one of the most significant educational shifts of our time. Online education, since the “for-profit” explosion in the early 2000s, has been growing steadily and has now made itself an integral part of how we are educated today. However, if you asked the question of, “Will online education be sustainable?” back in the early 2000s, many people would have dismissed its relevance to something as a mere fad. Even as a child myself, I remember the application of educational games we used in elementary school to learn math and spelling but if you compare that to today, the growth and change in our grade schools are mind-blowing. Now our children regularly interact with computers and software to learn and it continues to amaze me how quick kids are catching on to things that seemingly took us years to learn. So why is there still apprehension today in higher education. Notably, at a time when the cost of education is higher than it’s ever been. While most colleges and universities seem to be converging the traditional format with online learning, others are still wary and slow to change. Non-Profit universities like the University of Florida and Arizona State University are just some that are leading the pack for offering degrees entirely online; others are coming around at a much slower pace. For a parent and student like myself, I often weight the differences when choosing what is best. We encounter so many questions and thoughts with this decision; how do we make a smart choice?
Online Education Fears and Stigma
Before President Obama’s regulatory crackdown on colleges, the fear of online education, mainly by for-profit colleges, was that they were using predatory actions and scams to lure non-traditional students into their schools. These schools would then leave them with high amounts of debt and a worthless degree to show for it. At this time, online school was offering students an education for a career that would not ensure them the ability to pay back their educational loans. In addition, these same for-profit schools were charging a much higher tuition amount than their traditional school counterparts while having a drastically reduced graduation rate compared to Non-Profit universities. These schools were offering unaccredited programs for careers that required accreditation, leaving their students without the ability to be hired after graduation.
This all changed with the introduction of the Gainful Employment rule. For-profit schools were required to disclose graduation rates, employment, and cost on all their programs. Non-Profit schools were now required to report on all programs that do not offer degrees. A lot of For-Profit schools were shut down, and students who attended these school had their loans forgiven. While this helped a large number of people who were in bad situations, other students who left those school before they were shut down were still left with debt. However, the landscape of the For-Profit schools was forever changed with this new rule.
The Cost of College
Despite the advances in technology and the addition of online education methods, tradition university cost is still on the rise. When compared with completely online education options, it’s almost double. Why is that? Between the rising administrative cost, technology cost, and campus cost, going digital would seem, financially, to be the most logical idea.
While it is still a convincing idea to go to a community college for the first two years then transfer to a four-year degree institution, online educational competitors are still dominating the price comparison. However, differently, than years before, for-profit schools are not the only institutions offering completely online education. Non-profit schools are catching on and now offering a reduced amount for their education. Without the yearly room and board fees, additional fees, and facility fees, online options have found a way to combat the rise in cost. While it would still be optimum for these costs to be reduced, this could be a step in the right direction.
Note: One helpful way to calculate the cost of tuition is to use the Net Price Calculator. The net price is the amount the student can expect to pay to attend a university in a single year after scholarships and grants. By law, every college and university is required to have a net price calculator on their website.
5-Year change in Tuition Cost
So, what are the Trade-Offs?
To some people, going to school online is an experience that can be intimidating and met with anxiety. Adults who were in K-12 in the 90s or early do not have much experience with navigating an online classroom environment and most often prefer the traditional experience. However, older adults (over 30) are not alone. Many people inherently believe the traditional classroom experience vastly outweighs online education and so their initial reaction and choice would lean to the former. Nevertheless, most schools today are applying the blended approach to their education, forcing these types of students to experience the online classroom, but they do come with their pros and cons. The average student who isn’t prepared for these types of classes will have a rough beginning getting accustomed to this new setting. Also, not all online classroom setting as the same. There are two types of online classroom, asynchronous and synchronous. Some schools offer a both while others only one. The synchronous type of learning provides a classroom-like setting with either video or voice while each student attends and can comment by typing or speaking. Asynchronous classrooms are simply a list of instructions for assignments to complete for the week while allowing the student to interact with students through daily or weekly topics. While these two approaches differ significantly, it’s important you understand what type of online classroom environment you will be asked to attend.
“ I don’ think you can give a Stanford education online in the same way that I don’t think that Facebook gives you a social life”
-Susan Holmes, Stanford Professor
To better understand, lets breakdown some of the differences between them.
Online – One of the best features that students comment about online education is its flexibility. You can start work and stop work whenever applicable while knowing when the overall work is due. This helps people work around their busy schedule while they go to school.
Traditional – These types of classes are mostly set in stone and are a good fit for students who have the opportunity to build their life around their class schedule. They can choose what time and day they want to attend their class (depending on the offering) and work around those times.
Online – Depending on your online education type (asynchronous or synchronous) your feedback can vary. However, both offer the opportunity to e-mail your instructor/professor for questions. Response times can vary depending on our instructor and your class type.
Traditional – Face to face interaction makes feedback the best. Compared to students in an asynchronous online environment, traditional students get immediate feedback on questions they have or help they may need.
Online – While online classrooms can seem lonesome, networking in online education environments has grown a lot in the years. Classroom structure is built around a team-oriented environment, forcing students to communicate and work together to achieve common goals. They also have clubs and events that students may choose to attend too.
Traditional – You’re surrounded by people on campus, and you come face to face with them in your class. In most traditional schools there are a plethora of clubs and events they offer to meet new people and experience new things.
Despite how we feel about traditional and online education, as time goes on, many more schools will eventually converge their traditional way of teaching with online learning. While there may not be a potential for traditional institutions to completely be removed from education, with the increase of need for higher education for employment, many people are choosing to go back to school and classroom sizes are becoming overwhelming. Online educational learning gives schools the ability and agility to teach more students while offering the same quality of instruction. As online learning becomes a more prevalent style of learning, ultimately this could make higher education more affordable and give more people access to postsecondary school