Considering Online Education? Be Careful Not to Pay Too Much

About this article
Taking classes on the Web is becoming increasingly popular - it can save time, provide flexibility, eliminate a commute and allow students to pursue subjects that aren't offered at local campuses. However, a recently released study by the WCET and Campus Computing Project suggests that many students are paying more for Internet education than they would for the equivalent coursework on campus.
View available schools

WCET Enrollment Trends

Source here.

Enrollment Is Up

On October 22, the WCET and Campus Computing Project released their 2009 Survey of Online Education. The report shows steady gains in enrollment. An impressive 94% of the schools surveyed reported increases in enrollment in their Web programs between 2006 and 2009. Furthermore, the climb doesn't seem to have been affected by the economic downturn. The numbers stayed strong over the past year, with 95% of schools reporting higher enrollment in fall 2009 than fall 2008. Schools are also optimistic about the future. A full 98% of respondents expect to continue to see gains at least through 2011.

The survey suggests that online education has finally 'arrived.' Once met with significant skepticism about quality and legitimacy, taking courses on the Internet is becoming a perfectly acceptable alternative to traditional campuses classes. The increase in popularity may be due to the convenience of the online format, and the fact that Web courses are much more accessible for working professionals. People are also becoming more accustomed to living their lives online, and learning is just another activity made easier by technology.

Tuition is higher for online students

Costs Are Up Too

However, the Survey of Online Education also had some troubling news: Many students pay more tuition for online courses than they would for similar courses on campus. Almost half of the surveyed schools reported that tuition is higher for online students. Some students face a 10% or higher tuition hike just for taking classes on the Web. Almost one fifth of the colleges also reported charging additional registration fees for online classes, averaging around $230.

The survey offers various possible explanations for the imbalance. Because many of these programs are new and evolving - almost half of the respondents reported a major reorganization of program management in the last two years - production costs may be higher online than in established campus courses. Universities may also be adding out of state charges for long distance students. Finally, many state governments offer colleges lower reimbursement rates for online students, forcing the schools to increase tuition to make up the difference.

Online Learning

The survey has confirmed rising suspicions around the country about the costs of online education. In July, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that online students at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee were paying as much as $275 more in tuition per course than on campus students. And while there may be a good explanation for the difference, the numbers are perplexing among reports that schools don't even know if these programs are profitable. Although only 1.6% of schools surveyed reported a loss on online programs in the fiscal year ending June 2009, a full 45% simply checked 'unknown' in response to the question. Given the high degree of flux in program organization, it seems likely that the cost disparity will continue until the dust settles and schools can get a better handle on their online programs.

The news for online students isn't all bad, however. One third of the colleges reported matching tuition costs for online and on campus students, and one fifth actually reported lower costs for Internet courses. The most important lesson to be learned from this report seems to be to shop around when you're looking for online education options - another school may offer similar courses for a lot less.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Saint Leo University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • DCJ: Education
      • DBA: Business Administration
      • DCJ: Homeland Security
      • EDD: School Leadership
    Master's
      • MEd: Exceptional Student Education
      • MS: Criminal Justice
      • MS: Criminal Justice - Critical Incident Management
      • MS: Criminal Justice - Legal Studies
      • MS: Psychology
      • MA: Creative Writing - Fiction
    Bachelor's
      • BA: Criminal Justice
      • BA: Criminal Justice - Criminalistics
      • BA: Liberal Studies
      • BA: Psychology
      • BA: Psychology - General
      • BS: Computer Science
    Associate's
      • AA: Criminal Justice
      • AA: Liberal Arts
      • AA: Business Administration
      • AA: Information Technology
      • AA: Cybersecurity
  • Campus and Online Programs
    2. Full Sail University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • M.S. - Entertainment Business
      • M.S. - New Media Journalism
      • Master of Fine Arts - Creative Writing
      • M.S. - Public Relations
      • MS - Instructional Design and Technology
      • Master of Science - Innovation and Entrepreneurship
    Bachelor's
      • BS - Sportscasting
      • B.S. - Music Business
      • B.S. - Digital Cinematography
      • B.S. - Media Communications
      • Bachelor of Fine Arts - Creative Writing for Entertainment
      • B.S. - Sports Marketing and Media
    Certificate
      • Cert - Instructional Design and Technology
  • Online Programs Available
    3. University of Saint Francis

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Healthcare Administration
      • MBA
      • Master of Arts in Teaching (Secondary Education) - Licensure
      • Master of Science in Education - Special Education - Licensure
      • Master of Science in Education - Special Education - Non-Licensure
      • Master of Organizational Leadership
    Bachelor's
      • RN to BSN
    Certificate
      • Transition to Teaching - Secondary Education
      • Transition to Teaching - Special Education
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Independence University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Health Administration (MS)
      • Information Systems (MS)
      • Nursing Administration (MS)
      • Nursing Education (MS)
    Bachelor's
      • Accounting (BS)
      • Business Administration (BS)
      • Business Administration - Human Resources Emphasis (BS)
      • Business Administration - Marketing Emphasis (BS)
      • Business Administration - Technology Emphasis (BS)
      • Health Information Management (BS)
    Associate's
      • Business (AAS)
      • Graphic Arts (AAS)
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • DBA - Management
      • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
      • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
      • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Special Education
      • Ph.D. in General Psychology - Cognition and Instruction
      • Ph.D. in General Psychology - Industrial and Organizational Psychology
    Master's
      • M.S. Psychology with an Emphasis in Gerontology
      • M.S. in Psychology with an Emphasis in Human Factors
      • MA in Curriculum and Instruction
      • MS in Criminal Justice: Legal Studies
      • MS in Psychology: General Psychology
      • M.A. in Communication with an Emphasis in Education
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Science in Business for Secondary Education
      • BS in Psychology
      • B.S. in Psychology with an Emphasis in Performance and Sports Psychology
      • Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education
      • BS in Early Childhood
      • BS in Elementary Education / Special Education (Dual Major)
  • Online Programs Available
    6. The George Washington University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MSHS Medical Laboratory Sciences
      • MSHS in Immunohematology and Biotechnology
      • MSHS in Molecular Diagnostic Sciences
      • MSHS in Translational Microbiology
      • MSHS Clinical Operations & Healthcare Management
      • MSHS in Clinical Microbiology
    Bachelor's
      • BSHS in Clinical Operations and Healthcare Management
      • BSHS in Medical Laboratory Sciences
      • BSHS in Biomedical Informatics
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Purdue University Global

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Master of Science - DNP Executive Leader
      • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
      • Master of Science - DNP Path (Doctor of Nursing Practice)
    Master's
      • MS in Psychology - Forensic Psychology
      • Master: Legal Studies
      • MS in Psychology
      • Master : Business Admin
      • Master of Public Health
      • MBA: Human Resources
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor: Liberal Studies
      • Bachelor of Business Admin
      • BSBA - Investment
      • BS in Liberal Studies Leadership
      • Bachelor: Nutrition Science
      • Accelerated MS in Finance Option
    Associate's
      • AAS in Legal Support and Services
      • Associate: Criminal Justice
      • AAS in Information Technology - Multiplatform Software Development
      • Associate of Science in Fire Science
      • AAS in Criminal Justice and Criminology
      • AASIT: Network Admin
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Brenau University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Education - Early Childhood Education
      • Master of Education - Middle Grades
      • Master of Science - Entrepreneurship
      • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership
      • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership - Communication Management
      • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership -Negotiation and Conflict Resolution
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Science - Psychology
      • Bachelor in Business Adminstration
      • Bachelor in Business Adminstration - Accounting
      • Bachelor in Business Adminstration - Financial Economics
      • Bachelor in Business Adminstration - Human Resource Management
      • Bachelor in Business Adminstration - Marketing
    Associate's
      • Associate of Arts - Liberal Studies
      • Associate of Arts in Liberal Studies - Early Childhood Education
    Certificate
      • Education Specialist - Early Childhood Education
      • Education Specialist - Middle Grade Education
      • Education Specialist - Special Education
      • Post Graduate Certificate - Communication Management
      • Post Graduate Certificate - Finance
      • Post Graduate Certificate - Health Care Management
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Regent University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Education - Character Education
      • Doctor of Education - Curriculum & Instruction
      • Doctor of Education - Higher Education
      • Ph.D. in Communication
      • Ph.D. in Education - Character Education
      • Ph.D. in Education - Curriculum & Instruction
    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Communication
      • Master of Arts in Communication - Political Communication
      • Master of Arts in Communication - Strategic Communication
      • Master of Arts in Government - Political Communication
      • Master of Arts in Journalism
      • Master of Arts in Law - Business
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Applied Science in Criminal Justice
      • Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies
      • Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies - Journalism
      • Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies - Rhetoric and Public Culture
      • Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies - Strategic Communication
      • Bachelor of Arts in English - Communication
    Certificate
      • M.Ed. - Individualized Degree Program - Autism Certificate
      • M.Ed. in K-12 Special Education - Autism Certificate
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Penn Foster High School

    Program Options

    High School Diploma
      • HS Diploma

Featured Schools

Saint Leo University

  • DCJ: Education
  • MEd: Exceptional Student Education
  • BA: Criminal Justice
  • AA: Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education completed?

Full Sail University

  • M.S. - Entertainment Business
  • BS - Sportscasting
  • Cert - Instructional Design and Technology

What is your highest level of education?

University of Saint Francis

  • Master of Healthcare Administration
  • RN to BSN
  • Transition to Teaching - Secondary Education

What is your highest level of education completed?

Independence University

  • Health Administration (MS)
  • Accounting (BS)
  • Business (AAS)

What is your highest level of education completed?

Grand Canyon University

  • DBA - Management
  • M.S. Psychology with an Emphasis in Gerontology
  • Bachelor of Science in Business for Secondary Education

What is your highest level of education?

The George Washington University

  • MSHS Medical Laboratory Sciences
  • MSHS in Immunohematology and Biotechnology
  • BSHS in Clinical Operations and Healthcare Management
  • BSHS in Medical Laboratory Sciences

What is your highest level of education?

Purdue University Global

  • Master of Science - DNP Executive Leader
  • MS in Psychology - Forensic Psychology
  • Bachelor: Liberal Studies
  • AAS in Legal Support and Services

Which subject are you interested in?

Brenau University

  • Master of Education - Early Childhood Education
  • Bachelor of Science - Psychology
  • Associate of Arts - Liberal Studies
  • Education Specialist - Early Childhood Education

What is your highest level of education completed?