If you watch television for more than 30 minutes a day you’ve undoubtedly seen at least one ad for online education. One of our state universities seems to run them almost continually. These commercials make it seem as if an online education would be a great option for many people. If you’re a working person then getting your degree online would mean you could take classes when they would best fit your schedule. Stay-at-home moms with small children could also benefit from the flexibility offered by an online education. It’s also very tempting to think that you could get a bachelors degree while sitting in front of a computer in the comfort of your own home versus having to get in your car and drive to classes several times a week.
But there are some key things you should know before you sign up for online education and here are six of them.
Key fact #1: It may not be as cheap as you think
While you might think that getting your degree online will be cheaper than going to a traditional brick-and-mortar school, this may not necessarily be the case. Some sources have found that getting a degree online can actually be more costly than getting a degree from a traditional college. U. S. News recently did an analysis of about 300 programs and found that it’s more costly on a per-credit basis to take an undergraduate course online than a comparable course on-campus. In fact, this analysis revealed that one credit towards a bachelor’s degree on an online basis cost $277 compared with $243 per credit when attending a traditional brick-and-mortar college. There was also a study done by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities that found similar results. Four hundred public universities were involved in this study and it concluded that more than 60% charged the same tuition for courses that were taught face-to face as for courses taught online. However, 36% of the schools charge more for online tuition.
The reason for this is that if a school doesn’t already have an online program then creating one requires a significant investment. Online courses generally cost more to develop and require more time to teach effectively. Many members of a school’s faculty are used to teaching face-to-face and require a good deal of support and training to teach well online.
Key fact #2: You may not get the same quality of instruction
Schools that are using their own faculty for online courses generally find it’s difficult to make it less expensive without cutting corners. Faculty members that are full time are expensive. As a result, some schools hire instructors for their online programs that don’t receive benefits and who may not have advanced degrees. This becomes something of a crapshoot as you could have a very excellent instructor in one course and a very mediocre one in another. Colleges have to watch their costs these days and it can be very tempting to have their online courses taught by what are called “adjunct professors,” which is a fancy term for people that are recruited to teach specific courses and that come from the world of business – and are not faculty members at all.
Key fact #3: There may be hidden costs
When you take online courses in the comfort of your own home you definitely eliminate one cost – room and board. However, there can be some unpleasant surprises when pursuing an online degree. For one thing, you could end up paying more if you earn your degree by taking a class here and a class there. This is sometimes called tiered tuition. As an example of this, one online university has a lower per-credit tuition rate if you’re taking seven or more credit hours a term. This also accomplishes two things. It saves money and it can help you get your degree quicker.
It’s also possible that your school has separate tuition rates for in-state and out-of-state students even for their online programs. This is something you should carefully research before signing on the dotted line. The difference can be pretty steep, too. One of the schools with higher tuition rates for online students that reside out-of-state is Daytona State. It charges just $92 per credit for in-state students as compared with $560 per credit for students that live out-of-state.
There can also be many fees. As an example of this almost all online degree programs charge a technology fee but the amount of this varies widely between schools. Students taking courses online at one university are charged a $40 technology fee for each of their sessions while at another school the technology fee runs $120 per course. You should also keep your eyes open for graduation fees, assessment fees and yes, even parking fees.
Key fact #4: Not every online program is 100% online
Another thing to be careful of is that not all online programs are entirely online. There are programs, especially at the graduate school level, that require you to also do an in-person residency. For example, one South Carolina student that was working towards a master’s degree online at Gonzaga University was surprised to learn he would be required to do a three-day residency on campus. Since Gonzaga University is located in Spokane he was forced to take three flights to get there plus there were hotel and other expenses. This meant that his three-day campus residency ended up costing him at least $1000.
Before you choose an online degree program it’s important to consider how you will pay for it. While an online degree might cost less than going to a brick-and-mortar school, it will still be an expensive purchase and you should shop around to see where you would get the best value for your money. One of the best things about online learning is that there is no restriction as to the choices available. You could live in the far northwest and take online courses from a school located in Florida and vice versa.
It’s especially important to make sure the quality of your program is high if you’ll need federal student loans or private loans to pay for your online schooling. For one thing, you’ll need to make sure that a recognized national or regional accreditor has accredited your program. This is one way to make sure that it meets at least minimum standards. This also increases the odds that any credits you earn will be transferable if you change your mind and decide to attend a different school midway through your degree program. There are schools that are actually beginning to refuse to accept transfer credits from online programs regardless of accreditation. This is because they believe some online programs have very low standards.
Key fact #6: Borrow as little as you can
Whether you use federal funds or private loans to pay for your online degree it’s critical to borrow as little as possible. Student loans will stay with you until you repay them. The standard repayment plan for Direct Federal Student Loans is 10 years at a fixed interest rate. As of this writing it is 3.86% for both Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans. What this translates into is if you were to borrow a total of $20,000 to pay for your online degree your monthly payment would be approximately $193. Fortunately there are ways to drive this down through what’s called Income-driven Repayment. You can learn more about these options by clicking on this link. The fact is that getting federal student loans can actually be too easy. So if you think an online education is for you, be sure to pick a program that will deliver the maximum amount of value at the least possible cost so you can keep your borrowing to the very minimum.