On January 16, 2013 the New York Times reported that the credit reporting agency known as Moody’s is unimpressed with the current standing of higher education. According to the New York Times, Moody’s declared “that it had revised its financial outlook for colleges and universities, giving a negative grade to the entire field.” This is in contrast to the forecast of the last two years when Moody’s proclaimed that the most elite public and private colleges were stable. The most recent negative ruling has resulted in widespread speculation that all of higher education—not just the lower tier schools—must make changes in order to adapt to the changing times.
One of the most important changes that Moody’s demanded colleges embrace is the addition of online classes and programs that make education more accessible and, in most cases when it is implemented correctly, more affordable than the traditional brick and mortar model.
The bad economy has resulted in limited job opportunities and subsequently less money per household. Meanwhile, college tuition costs have continued to rise. Many times tuition increases are fueled by colleges need to impress others with new buildings and on-campus student services. Yet with congress granting less and less financial aid to individuals, families having little money, and spiking per-credit fees every single year, many young people are choosing to avoid college. Such a decision will undoubtedly limit their long term career prospects, but for many cash-strapped young people avoiding student loan debt is far more important than taking a risk on a degree that no longer guarantees a career.
Although degrees earned online cannot promise job openings any more than a brick and mortar earned degree can, they do have the ability to make going to college a lot easier and cheaper for students. Firstly, online degrees allow a person to complete their assignments when and where it best suits them to do so (abet meeting due date deadlines). Thus, a person can more easily hold a job (and earn money) while taking an online class than they could if they had to alter their entire schedule to physically attend a class at a set time every day or week. Furthermore, online classes can be accessed from anywhere in the world so a student does not need to be in the same state (or even the same country) to get an education. This saves students money on gas, cars, and residency since many young people opt to remain living at home as they attend classes and this practice reduces educational fees considerably.
Additionally, if colleges are able to place the majority of their classes and programs online then they will no longer have a need to construct as many buildings or maintain as many dorms on campus. This means that fewer fees need to be spent on maintaining buildings, including paying for air conditioning and heating. Hence, tuition costs can be lowered, more students can be attracted from various locations, and the tuition fees that are collected can be spent on enhancing education (especially the virtual platforms) instead of beautifying campuses that are slowly but surely becoming obsolete.
Moody’s acknowledged that online classes will somewhat undermine the traditional brick and mortar mode of education. Yet as times change and technology advances this is a process that is more or less unavoidable. Some degrees, like medical doctors and the performing arts, will always need to have hands-on elements in their classes. However, the vast majority of subjects and coursework from Associate degrees to Doctorate degrees can and could be done totally online. Currently, the biggest obstacle facing online education is that too few universities offer fully online degree programs and that hinders their profits and denies millions of people the opportunity to gain additional education.
Moody’s report was largely in favor of online education; even outright suggesting that colleges embrace the promising new online format. According to Moody’s report:
“Until universities demonstrate better ability to lower their cost of operations, perhaps through more intensive use of online classes and elimination or reduction of tenure, we expect government officials to produce bolder solutions in response to the public outcry against the cost of higher education.”
Although many colleges are still dragging their feet in the face of these much-needed implementations, there are signs of hope. Columbia University, an acclaimed Ivy-League institution, now offers fully online engineering Ph.D. programs. Arizona State University—a top tier school—offers many degrees online and seems intent on adding more in the near future. SUNY has set a goal to become the largest public college provider of online classes and has promised to add many more programs to its online roster. These new programs are scheduled to be open for enrollment by next year. This is a trend that cannot be ignored.
Online education has existed for little more than a decade and it was initially regarded with scorn and considered to be lackluster and practically valueless. Yet as technology advances and people are conditioned to learn on technical devices from infancy, the tides have turned. Online education is just now starting to become the go-to model for learning and will probably the be preferred mode for overall education very soon. Although it is impossible to see the future, I am willing to gamble that in twenty years’ time far more students will go to school (and more people will attend work) online than offline.
The trend of online education is just starting to make it into the mainstream. Now it is up to the institutions of higher education to appease public demand and provide opportunities for people to take classes online in order to better themselves, reduce debt, and ultimately better the economy.