Can Online College Cut the Cost of Regular College?

According to an article recently posted on the conservative Heritage Foundation Web site, online colleges are a way to make higher education more affordable. This argument, though questionable, has been made by proprietary school advocates for years. Online schools are cheaper. People who go there same money by eschewing pricey, traditional schools.

Heritage takes this farther, however, arguing not just that online schools save students money, but they will eventually save all Americans money by reducing the cost of college. From the article:

Rather than continuing to expand federal subsidies for college students and student loan borrowers, policymakers and the private sector should focus on strategies to lower college costs. A promising strategy is to strengthen competition between higher education providers by harnessing the power of technology and online learning.

These trends have the potential to dramatically lower costs and pop what some observers have called the “college tuition bubble.” This presents policymakers and the private sector with a better strategy to solve the college affordability problem.

Heritage recommends that colleges lower costs by offering online instruction. State governments should offer financial incentives to promote such instruction.

Heritage argues that Obama’s student loan policies, by offering more federal aid, will only increase the cost of college. More government money distorts the true cost of college and allows tuition increases to continue.

This is a good point. So far the Obama administration, like every prior administration, has made little attempt to rein in the cost of college.

It’s not really clear why more online classes would decrease the cost of college, however. Currently online classes don’t really compete with regular ones, because they’re of lower quality. While virtual classrooms certainly have the potential to decrease the cost of running a college, unless people perceive online learning as on-par with traditional learning, and unless the price of taking an online course gets a lot cheaper than it is now, more online courses won’t mean competitive pricing to decrease the cost of college. Try again.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer