A Sensible Higher Ed Business Model for Online Degrees: Are We There Yet?

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

Not yet, but we’re getting close.

Devon Haynie, in “10 Most Inexpensive Online Bachelor’s Programs for Out-of-State Students,”1 provides signs that higher ed has reached a milestone in the quest for a business model for online degrees that makes sense for the population that needs it most — students and families of students who simply can’t afford today’s high cost of a bachelor’s degree.

For students from low-income families, the bottom line is tuition that can be paid through minimum-wage part-time jobs. In other words, can they earn enough working 20-30 hours a week to pay their tuition?

In a time when tuition is rising instead of falling, online technology has been the light at the end of a very long tunnel. But until now, that light has remained distant and dim, receding rather than growing closer, with colleges viewing technology as added value to onground traditional courses and calling the mix “blended” while driving the cost of education even higher.

To further stymie the growth of online courses, they make them as unattractive as possible, continuing to charge online students the same fees as their onground counterparts even when they don’t use the same resources. To further stick it to online programs, out-of-state fees are also charged, effectively shutting out the potentially large disruptive population of nontraditional and low-income students.

But all of that is changing. At last.

For example, Mary, a hypothetical student who lives at home with her parents and works 20 hours a week at the counter of a fast-food restaurant in Wai’anae, Hawaii, can now earn enough to pay her tuition at Texas Tech University, where she’s working toward a bachelor’s in Special Education and Teaching. The cost per credit hour is $213, and she needs 120 credits to graduate. The total cost for four years is $25,560, which breaks down to $6,390 a year or $3,195 a semester.  Continue reading