Online, Public, and Still Overpriced

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One of the more compelling arguments for expanding online course offerings has to do with price. With no need for facilities at all, theoretically the only cost of online education is paying the professor. The students, after all, pay for their own computers.

As Westminster College’s Michael Bassis argued in Business Week last month: “More than a few brick-and-mortar institutions are likely to fail if online options consistently deliver more learning at a lower cost.”

Well, except when online options don’t deliver more learning at a lower cost. From Minnesota Public Radio comes news that online classes in Minnesota’s colleges are actually more expensive than normal ones:

Data from the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system shows online classes at [Minnesota public colleges] cost an average of 19 percent more than those taught in the classroom.

The University of Minnesota charges extra for its online courses as well, tacking on a fee that can range from $15 to $30 per credit hour. It’s something colleges and universities in surrounding states do as well.

Pat Opatz, the director of Minnesota Online… said that’s because putting a class online isn’t cheap. An instructor still needs be paid to teach the class, which often requires as much interaction with students as in a classroom.

Well yes. Obviously delivering a course online isn’t free for colleges but the fact that online costs money still doesn’t explain why students have to pay more money for online than traditional courses.

Does the cost justify the price? Minnesota cannot say whether or not it costs colleges more to deliver online courses because, according to the piece, the “accounting system doesn’t specifically track those figures.”

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