Just because you don’t see a person carrying a backpack or heading to campus on a bike doesn’t mean you’re not looking at today’s college student. They’re all around you, but they do their work in secret: the scholar of today often learns in the privacy of his or her home, studying by the light of a desk top or a tablet, comfortable in fuzzy slippers.
Data from the National Center for Education Statistics (for 2016-17) shows us that fully 15.4% of all students taking college classes…nearly one of six… are taking them online. Furthermore, there remains steady growth in online enrollment in a period of decline in overall college enrollment. So, while fewer students head toward on-campus programs, why is there such growth in undergraduate and graduate online degree programs?
Let’s look at some answers.
Online Degree Programs are Affordable
Most online courses, certificates, and degree programs will have tuition that is at least a bit lower than that of brick-and-mortar institutions. If a traditional university is adding online classes to its on-campus offerings, it can look at the tuition dollars thus generated as supplemental revenue. And online-only institutions of course save money on buildings and a great number of staff members required for these courses. It’s not just instructors they have to pay, but custodians, counselors, public safety officers, and sometimes food service employees. Lower overhead translates to reduced tuition and fees…it’s that simple.
A generation or two ago, a student spending a substantial amount of money on higher education was viewed as making an essential investment in the future. Today, adults more actively search for affordability and a good return on their degrees.
However, it isn’t just the tuition that one has to worry about when taking a class. That’s another place where online courses really save students. Taking classes online saves on gas money, parking, textbooks, (while some online classes may use print texts, they tend to be more oriented around digital materials), parking, on-the-go fast food, and sometimes even childcare or other miscellaneous expenses. Staying home, in short, saves money in a wide variety of ways.
Online Colleges Offer Convenience
One of the often-frustrating things about scheduling a semester at a traditional school is trying to make everything fit. That film class that everyone says is great is at the same time as the required chem lab, and it’ll be hard to fit in the English class you need because your Wednesdays are already too busy.
Online courses blow those concerns right out of the water. Online degree programs allow you to access the lectures and other course material at any time, and you can complete your assignments when your schedule allows.
Variety of Courses and Degrees
A local community college or four-year university may offer limited courses, majors, and degree levels. By contrast, online programs exist in an incredible variety. The range includes such disciplines as Aerospace Engineering, Christian Counseling, Child Development, Occupational Therapy, Cyber Security, Education, Business Management, and virtually all of the traditional disciplines.
Some students find the program they are looking for only in online institutions. Or, they find the most convenient and flexible way to earn a degree while working to be online.
Learn Your Way
Would you rather furiously take notes in a lecture or have the lecture right in front of you, to refer to any time? And in a nice, colorful format rather than in your chicken scratch handwriting? Would you rather take an exam at 8 a.m., when groggy and in need of breakfast, or when you’re clear-headed and at your best?
Different people learn differently, but one thing is certain about face-to-face instruction: it happens in real time. When sitting in and a class—sometimes with annoying people chatting near you--it can be hard to catch a certain aside or quick announcement an instructor makes. It may be hard to participate for less-confident students, since other students may dominate. The online learning environment gives students more control in those ways. Everything is available on screen for you to view as you’d like, and that’s the kind of environment most people are used to in general in today’s world. If you’d like to participate in class discussions, you can sort out your thoughts while composing a post, rather than risking tripping over your words, if that’s a concern for you. But you are not alone… in most cases, you can easily contact your instructors if you have questions or need clarification.
Career Advancement and Increased Earnings
Online learning is all about convenience, and that’s what attracts a lot of people into the environment. The programs that quite a few learners choose—particularly older (or non-traditional) students—are ones that offer certifications that are key for career advancement. One isn’t likely to commute serious distances or enroll at a brick-and-mortar colleges for lower-credit, specific certification programs. The demands of their present career won’t allow for it: online courses are a Godsend by allowing adults to keep up with their work and day-to-day lives while also putting themselves into a situation for a better life.
Increased Mobility…Earn a Degree from Anywhere
Whenever someone considers a new responsibility, like taking a course online, he or she may be a bit nervous. We’re always too busy as it is. A lot of folks have their daughter’s volleyball games or son’s scout meetings to go to, their own hobbies and activities, and managing the demands of a career that will support their family.
When people learn that online courses can be earned with a variety of mobile devices, that fact often relieves some of their anxiety about finding time. Squeezing in some of the required activities while waiting for events to start, etc., can be very helpful. That is why recent surveys show that checking grades, typing discussion messages, and contacting instructors are very commonly done using a device other than a computer. Remember, you have a whole universe in the palm of your hand!
Your Own Pace…You Can go as Fast or as Slowly as You Wish
One of the sometimes- overlooked advantages of online learning is the opportunity to earn a certificate or a degree at one’s own pace. Generally, students can begin a degree program at any time of year (and most qualify for at least some scholarship or financial aid assistance whenever they start). If a student is afraid of taking on too much, he or she can begin with just one or two courses until they are confident enough to increase their course load. Or, students in a hurry, especially those with prior credit or College Life Experience Credit, can zip through a program surprisingly fast.
For the reasons we’ve discussed, we’re seeing a higher percentage of students going the online degree route. And while a few online colleges (primarily those which are for profit) have closed, sometimes with little warning, more and more well- established colleges and universities are establishing and/or expanding their online offerings. The bottom line, many educators believe, is that online education will continue to play an important role in our future.