To lower the cost of college, more parents are suggesting that their kids skip dorm life, and perhaps even the campus altogether.
According to a new study from Fidelity, 54 percent of parents expect their children to take online courses for credit. Half of parents say they’re considering having their child live at home and commute.
The number of students taking online courses has spiked. Since 2010, online college course enrollment has jumped 29 percent, according to Columbia University’s Community College Research Center. Now, 6.7 million students (roughly a third of all college students) are enrolled in online courses.
Stanford University made headlines two years ago when it began offering a noncredit, open-enrollment class on artificial intelligence. More recently, Georgia Tech created a stir by announcing that next January, it will offer a master’s degree in computer science that will cost just $6,600.
Online courses are the latest push to make college more cost-effective says Ben Kaplan, a college financing expert and publisher of the website CityofCollegeDreams.org. Students have long had methods of acquiring less-expensive credits and applying them to pricey universities – starting out at community college and transferring, for instance, or studying abroad for a year. Now, with added online options for school, that strategy has become more accessible.
Students choose online courses for a variety of reasons, not limited to cost, says Susan Hanflik, an educational planner who advises families on their college choices.
Sometimes an online class allows a student to complete an internship off campus, or allows him to get ahead on coursework. But the bump in online courses might also be due to their cost-effectiveness for universities, Hanflik says.
Still, students should be wary of potential downsides of online enrollment, she says.
A student must be organized and self-motivated to stay engaged. “It’s very easy to just stop turning the computer on if you don’t have a human interacting with you,” Hanflik says.
“The most costly thing you can do is not finish your degree,” Kaplan says. In fact, for-profit online colleges have recently come under fire for low retention rates.
Plus, there are benefits of living on campus, if a family can afford it, Hanflik says, including the ability to try various subjects before settling on a major. The online track tends to be less exploratory.
Kaplan also warns that online doesn’t always mean cheaper. There are expensive online schools, and enrolling on campus could even end up being less expensive when financial aid and scholarships are taken into account.
During the college application process, families should keep in mind that the “sticker price” of college is often not the amount they will have to pay, says Megan McClean, director of policy and federal relations for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. Still, cost should be a major factor considered before a college is selected.