Online Colleges have swept the nation with commercials and internet advertising. They are available everywhere you look. Some have achieved solid reputations and name familiarity and others are small and local in the ‘market.’ I will not be discussing any school specifically in this blog (I included a video above from the University of Phoenix because it is one of the most recognizable online schools and wanted to give an example of their structure), but rather the concept and future of online technology concerning college.
College courses offered completely online is not a new concept. Since the evolution of the internet, it has been used as a tool in education. The idea of full online schools, however, has not been around all that long. The fact that someone can go online, never enter a classroom, and complete an Associates, Bachelors, Masters or PhD program is a crazy idea. It does make education more accessible to people who may never have another chance to experience college due to job hours or location.
Some of the benefits of online education can be the convenience of doing the program from a personal computer. Some colleges use e-books online, so you may never need to purchase a book. The hours are flexible and assignments are due on different days of the week. They can email their instructors at any time, and have a chance to be social with other people around the country online in classroom discussions. They can apply for financial aid at accredited schools, and can take out student loans for their online degree.
However, there are many setbacks to pursuing a degree completely online. First of all, online colleges are not like campus settings where they give tours of the campus to prospective students and encourage students to apply to more than one school. There is an intense pursuit of students to go to school online, because the admissions department is a sales department. The counselors get paid (or get to keep their jobs) if they meet certain numbers of enrollments and starts per semester/period. As you can imagine, this may lead many people to stretch the truth or outright lie to get someone to sign up. The teachers for strictly online colleges usually only have to have a Masters degree and some ‘work experience’ in their field ( which is more than relative). They do not have to work towards PhD’s to teach college courses. Also, since communication with instructors is only online, it can be difficult to reach them and know when they will get help or feedback. There are tutoring services available, but they are very limited in availability and run usually by fellow students.
Then there is the credibility to the degree that is still up for debate. Many people do not view a college degree from an online college as credible as one from a campus/major University. The accreditation of the school is extremely important in this case, because many online colleges have low/zero accreditation which means the degree is essentially useless. On top of this question is the cost of the degree. These schools cost double of what a community college credit would cost (at least) and almost twice as much as a public university. It is essentially attending a private, for-profit school that is going to cost thousands and thousands of dollars. For example, an Associates degree in Graphic Design from our local community college $2357/semester or $9428 total for tuition. That same degree from an online college in our community costs $4435/term (10 weeks) and is a total of 8 terms to equal $35,480 tuition for the same Associates degree.
And what is to be said about the quality of the education? Is there not some immeasurable value to experiencing the community and learning environment of a classroom for at least part of a degree? I think so. As a future teacher, I believe it is crucial to preserve the classroom. Many public universities are offering online classes now, but they are facilitated differently. The teacher is on-campus and students can come see them if they have questions. The cost is the same as taking a class in the classroom, and there is no concern about accreditation.
While there are some benefits to the online college format, I believe that these for-profit sales schools are too good to be true. From personal experience, I would take the collaboration of the classroom and technology any day.