In recent years, the number of students enrolling in online degrees has been increasing. According to a 2013 study, there have been at least ten consecutive years of growth in the number of college students enrolling in online courses. In the year before the study came out, over 6 million college students in the U.S. took at least one class online. It was also indicated in that study that over 69 percent of college academic officers surveyed thought that online learning was an important part of their school’s long-term educational strategy.
It has become clear that online education can offer students more flexibility in learning. Whether or not offering online education actually saves colleges money, however, is still a question of some debate.
The question of whether online education saves colleges money is a difficult one to answer, in part because it may depend on whether or not a college has already significantly invested in offering online programs.
As online education becomes more widespread, more and more educators are realizing that it has both unique advantages and challenges for students. While it can be quite effective, the teaching strategies that go into making online learning can be a lot different than the pedagogical approaches used in more traditional classrooms. This means that when a school is just beginning to offer online degrees, they may have to invest in a good deal of time and capital in teacher training. If they also are needing to set up an online program from scratch, that can also take a big initial investment. In addition to all that, there are things that need to be maintained in order to keep an online program running effectively. Technical support, tutoring support, and ongoing teacher training are just some of the areas in which schools need to continue to invest.
Some will argue, however, that even when you add these costs up, online education can ultimately be cheaper for colleges to offer than traditional learning. Once you get past the initial costs of setting up a program, then you may be able to save money by not needing to invest in maintaining as many brick and mortar classroom spaces and student activities. However, many traditional colleges are attempting to provide both traditional learning and online learning opportunities, so how the savings add up is probably going to look different for each institution, depending on how they approach this balance.
What it Means for Students
Ultimately, what this means for students is that they shouldn’t necessarily expect online courses to be cheaper than traditional ones. Colleges that are having to put big start-up investments into beginning online education and who are serious about maintaining a high level of instruction may not have many immediate savings to pass on to students. The good news, however, is that online education has been found to be very effective, especially for students who are self-disciplined and who appreciate the flexibility such learning offers. Blended types of learning are becoming more valued. Some students have discovered value in combining the best of both worlds instead of just pursuing online degrees or traditional ones.