Educational Futures

Online higher education is getting closer.

A college degree costs too much. Living expenses, administrative expenses, activity fees—they’ve become the tail that wags the educational dog. $200 thousand is typical—and it’s too much to spend on an undergraduate degree. It doesn’t really matter that State schools are cheaper. They’re just being subsidized by taxpayers. The cost is the cost.

But online education has the potential to change this. Living expenses are marginal. Administrative expenses are significantly less. There’s no need to maintain a large lecture hall: it costs as much to provide instruction for one student as for a thousand. Tests and papers still need correcting, but online tools can help there, too.

Up until now online degrees were niche products: University of Phoenix and ITT Education offered mainly vocational courses designed around specific trade credentials. But now, as Jimmy Durante said, everybody wants to get into the act. MIT has long offered all of their classes online; now they’ve got a certificate program called MITx. MITx offers MIT instruction for free, and also allows learners to earn certificates. California State, a university system with over 400 thousand students, has announced a plan to create an online virtual campus which can award Cal State degrees.

Some will bemoan the loss of the on-campus experience: socializing, intercollegiate and intramural sports, inculcating an institution’s ethos. But we live in a different world. Many of those social networks are virtual. And the price tag is so high!

There’s never been a time where a college education is more necessary; there’s never been a time where college has cost so much. Online degrees offer a way to address both problems. It’s going to happen. We’re just working out the details.

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