The average student graduating from college in 2014 has about $33,000 in student-loan debt. That’s an unprecedented level of debt that students haven’t faced before. Even when adjusted for inflation, students graduating in 1993 owed less than half that amount.
It’s obvious that the United States needs to find a solution to massive student debt. Some educators believe that online classes could lower the cost of college classes, which should lower the amount of money students have to borrow. Can online educations really cure unsustainable student debt?
Some Online Classes Are Cheaper Than Traditional College Classes
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Online classes are almost always cheaper than traditional classes from private colleges. The average cost of an undergraduate online class is less than $300 per credit hour. Costs vary greatly between private colleges, but students can generally expect to spend at least $400 per credit hour at the most affordable private schools.
Pricier, Ivy League colleges can cost ten times that, averaging close to $4000 per credit hour for classes on campus.
When it comes to public universities, in-state students could potentially save money by taking classes on campus. Students attending in-state public universities can expect to pay about $250 per credit hour.
This shows that students need to analyze their options to decide whether they can benefit from online courses. No one can say that online courses always cost less than on-campus classes. It’s also incorrect to say that online classes are always more expensive.
Instructor Training and Technology Can Raise the Price of Online Classes
This seems counterintuitive to some people. After all, brick-and-mortar schools have to pay for buildings, maintenance, and student organizations. How is it possible that some campus classes cost less than online classes?
The answer could lie in the amount of money that colleges spend updating technology and training instructors for online classes.
Instructors who teach on campus usually learn the skills they need while pursuing their degrees. Many professors learn how to manage classrooms by teaching during graduate school. It’s an inexpensive way for colleges to give their graduate students experience while making sure undergraduate students learn essential material.
Instructors who teach online may need to learn new skills before taking over classes.
Online colleges also have to spend a lot of money on technology that lets students and teachers interact seamlessly online. Online classes require expensive hardware, software, and maintenance.
Over time, these costs may come down, making online classes more affordable. Currently, that isn’t the case for many colleges.
Students Need to Make Sure They Get Credit from Online Classes
Online classes taken from accredited universities should give successful students the credits they need to complete degrees and prepare for careers. For instance, an online degree in nursing from an accredited school should give students the skills they need to perform jobs competently.
Unfortunately, not all online classes offer the same levels of education. Free MOOCs don’t always fit into professional curricula. Many also don’t give students credit for completing classes. Students might learn important materials, but they don’t always get credit that helps them complete their degrees.
For many, that makes free MOOCs useless.
Online Classes Could Make Education More Affordable
Online classes could help lower massive student debt, especially once teachers, students, and institutions adapt to new technologies needed to conduct classes online. It’s unlikely that online classes will eliminate student debt, but they might play a role in making higher education more affordable.
Students should consider that online education offers secondary financial benefits. Online classes are more flexible than campus classes. Students don’t have to meet at specific times and they don’t have to commute to class. That makes it easier for adults to work full-time while taking classes online.
Students who work full-time might also avoid loans used to pay for room and board. When students can afford to pay for living expenses out-of-pocket, they shouldn’t accumulate as much debt.
By keeping income stable, students may not need to rely so much on government and private loans. The less students have to borrow while taking classes, the less they have to repay after graduation. That could have a significant impact on cumulative debt.