Colleges and universities have been the cornerstone of American education since Harvard was founded in 1636. Yet technological advances and easy access of the internet allows for a new market for prospective students: online college.
Online college is not just for 2-year degrees or community colleges. Elite, Ivy League schools such as Yale and Stanford are moving some courses online, and MIT and Harvard paired up to commit $60 million to offer online courses.
An article written by Nathan Harden describes the future of colleges as follows: “Access to college-level education will be free for everyone; the residential college campus will become largely obsolete; tens of thousands of professors will lose their jobs; the bachelor’s degree will become increasingly irrelevant; and ten years from now Harvard will enroll ten million students.”
Harden believes that in fifty years college will be online, that it will go from exclusive to inclusive, and that “half of the roughly 4,500 colleges and universities now operating in the United States will have ceased to exist.”
The benefits of online college are obvious. It would be far less expensive, more available for a greater variety of people, and more efficient than college is today. The poorest students would have the same access to expensive Ivy League schools as the wealthiest students.
Harden notes the benefits of online college, writing that “what is emerging is a global marketplace where courses from numerous universities are available on a single website.” That sort of system is obviously advantageous as it will allow students to choose the courses and the teaching style that works best for them.
But is online college really as beneficial as it seems?
One of the greatest cons to online college is the lack of face to face interaction. In a way, the college experience–internships, study abroad trips, independence, living on campus–is just as crucial as the actual information learned from professors. In a New York Times letter to the editor about the increase in online college, college student Tara McLaughlin writes “the teacher-student relationship formed in class allows for open discussion, giving the classroom a friendly and engaging ambience. Online classes would not provide this…it would be difficult for them to deepen a student’s understanding and interest in the field of study.”
Alex Schuler, former Leesville student and current freshman at NC State University, wouldn’t change her traditional college education for an online version.
“I guess that online college would be more efficient because you would get a lot more out of your time. But if you go to an actual four year college, you get the whole experience. You get to meet so many people, and you just graduate with a much better experience,” said Schuler.
Students who live on campus grow academically by challenging themselves in college, mature by adjusting to a completely different situation than what they’ve lived in for the past 18 years, and are introduced to a variety of opportunities that would not be available online.
Meredith Hicks, former Leesville students and freshman at UNCG, completely agrees. As cross country and track runner at a D1 university, she wouldn’t and couldn’t change her college experience for online courses.
“I run D1. How else and where else am I supposed to get the opportunity to compete, travel, and explore collegiate level sports in my life? I would never trade up the opportunity I have to run with the elite, be coached by the best, make friends with some of the coolest people I
know,” Hicks wrote via email.
Hicks also notes the high expectations college professors have and the broad selection of courses many schools offer–both of which can’t be found online.
Harden, on the other hand, negates the value of traditional college academics. He writes that most colleges just contain “grade inflation, poor student discipline, and apathetic teachers rubber-stamping students just to keep them paying tuition for one more term.”
Peter Lawler, a professor at Berry College, responds to Harden’s article with a blog on the subject. He argues that Harden is “is shamelessly exaggerating how bad our colleges are now.”
All in all, college is what the student makes of it. How a student grows academically comes from not just the size and strength of his school, but also his effort. While online college does provide many benefits, it just doesn’t seem as beneficial as traditional schooling.
While discussing online college vs. regular college, Schuler says, “I know I love State, and I love being there with my friends. You would just miss out on the experience.”