Online courses are too expensive, so are on-site courses

After welcoming undergraduates to campus, Notre Dame, the state of Michigan, and the University of North Carolina (among others), experienced outbreaks of COVID-19. The result: they returned to distance learning. With 26,000 coronavirus cases linked to college campuses, more will follow soon. While some of these schools will offer discounts for online courses, many others will not. Is it right?

The students don’t think so. In a recent survey, 93% of undergraduates said online tuition fees should be reduced. This result is not a surprise. Most of us equate “online” to “cheaper”. But while other industries have been able to cut prices by taking advantage of technology and the internet, colleges and universities (with the exception of massive online courses or MOOCs) generally charge the same fees for the courses. online and on site. Why?

Faculty fees. If you are trying to maintain the same level of quality, the professors who teach your courses on-site should also teach online. This is why many schools pay the same amount to teach the same class online or on site. In fact, some schools, including my employer, Johns Hopkins University, pay professors a one-time fee to develop new online courses. This is not the case for on-site courses.

Classroom. Both online and on-site courses have classrooms. On-site classrooms require physical space. Schools usually own the buildings where the classrooms are located, but there is always a cost (maintenance, insurance, utilities, etc.). Unfortunately, it’s difficult to estimate what the cost of a classroom is worth, especially since some schools are located in more expensive real estate markets than others. For example, George Washington University in the District of Columbia charges $ 110 for a class of 20 students. Assuming the class meets 15 times per semester, the total cost is $ 1,650. A similarly sized classroom at the University of Georgia costs $ 50 or $ 750 per semester.

Online courses use Learning Management Systems (LMS) to recreate the physical classroom. When a student signs up for an online course, they will find instructor-led discussion forums, audio and video lectures, PowerPoint presentations, direct access to readings, and more.

One of the biggest LMS platforms is Blackboard. The price Blackboard charges depends on a number of factors: the size of the college or university; the number of students taking online courses; and what options are chosen. One estimate put the cost of a course organized by Blackboard for twenty students at around $ 12,000. This price drops dramatically the more online courses your school offers. In addition, cheaper options are also available, including open source services like Moodle or Edmodo.

Administrative costs. Online and on-site courses have common administrative costs: library services, admissions, registration, and work placement. Other administrative costs are more associated with on-site students, such as clubs, social events, accommodation, healthcare, etc. But on-site students usually pay additional fees beyond the tuition fees for these services.

Since online and onsite courses cost roughly the same price to develop, teach, and administer, should students get a discount at schools that only offer online courses this fall? ? From this point of view, the answer is no. But based on what it takes to create and teach an undergraduate class, students pay too high a price no matter what modality of instruction is used.

Many American colleges and universities depend on tuition fees. They don’t have large endowments or enough research grants to cover their bills without overcharging tuition. For a number of schools, income from online education has been a lifeline. Some, like Purdue University, have used the extra dollars earned from online courses to freeze undergraduate tuition fees. Others, sadly, have used the money to postpone tough decisions that could cut costs and make the university more affordable and accessible, such as cutting red tape, cutting travel, and costly conference budgets. and the imposition of a moratorium on new construction.

More and more potential students and their families are factoring in the costs when choosing which university to attend. Due to COVID-19, this practice is likely to increase. Schools should use income from online education to limit tuition fees for all courses, online and on-site. If they don’t, they will have a hard time surviving in a post-COVID-19 world.


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