Online College or Campus Learning?

Category: Education

These days, earning a college degree online is an option as readily available as traditional, on-campus living and learning. So what's the better choice? There are many pros and cons of online college. Here's a guide to deciding...

Online College - The Right Choice?

Many people are turning to online college courses for personal improvement and professional development. I've written before about the variety of Free Online College Courses that are available, but it's also quite possible to get a complete college degree by taking online college courses.

Cost is a big issue. Online college tuition, course materials, and fees tend to be much lower than classroom-based equivalents. You don't have to pay for a desk, or a locker. There are no dorm rental fees (or sloppy dorm mates). Eating at home is cheaper (and healthier) than cafeteria food and delivered pizza. Everyone knows why they call it the "Freshman 15" right? Transportation costs are also a consideration, including parking fees if you have a car.

See my companion article Financial Aid for Online College to get the scoop on getting financial aid, grants and scholarships for online college. You should also read Don't Fall For Online Financial Aid Scams to pick up some tips on the best places to find financial aid, and which to avoid.
Online College

Temptation is also a consideration. Many students find the frenzy of campus life distracts them from their studies, to put it mildly. Fraternity rush parties; football season; "keggers" and other bacchanalian debaucheries... you know, the parts of college your parents remember fondly but never discuss with you! Some students have the discipline to shut themselves up with books while toga-clad coeds are frolicking through the dorm hallway. But if you are not such a Zen master, then the solitude of online, at-home study may be better for your grades.

Accreditation and Face Time

The reputation and accreditation of an online school is another factor to consider. You should do your due diligence to ensure that the degree you receive will be honored by employers in your field of endeavor. I've written more about this in my article Are Online Colleges Accredited?

What about face to face interaction with professors? You'd think that might be a big plus for the traditional campus-based education, But in most large universities, you don't get much of that in the classroom. Most professors read their lectures; call upon a fraction of the students present; and students take notes, text each other, and check their Facebook pages. And in many cases, a grad student teaching assistant gives the instruction, further removing the professor from the student's reach.

Sometimes you do need the full interaction of a personal meeting to phrase questions and re-phrase them properly; obtain immediate clarification of points you do not understand; and just impress yourself upon a teacher's consciousness. "Out of sight, out of mind" is a tried-and-true proverb. Like it or not, students who "make face" with professors tend to get better grades. (Incidentally, the same is true of telecommuting jobs; people who are rarely seen by their bosses get promoted less.)

The academic resources of a campus may be a consideration for certain fields of study. It's rather difficult, if not outright illegal, to set up an adequate chemistry lab in one's home. Campus libraries may contain books and other materials that are not on a public library's shelves. Often, though, you can find specialized library materials online, request them through interlibrary loan, pick up and return them through your local public library branch.

If you plan to pay for your degree with an athletic scholarship, you're pretty much stuck with living and learning on campus. Unless your "sport" is online gaming, maybe. But there aren't a lot of job openings for World of Warcraft mavens.

Ivory Towers

Much is made of the "diversity of the college experience," by which proponents of campus life mean that you get to meet lots of different people from different cultures, and somehow this exposure makes you a better-educated individual. Others argue that college campuses are the most insular, intolerant, conformity-enforcing gated communities in existence. The "ivory tower" is a symbol for a community that is shut off from the real world, and for academia in general.

But of course there's another big reason why young people go off to college -- to socialize with members of the opposite sex where their parents can't see them. That consideration alone keeps dorm rooms at full capacity. If you're an adult student with a job and a family, the social aspects of campus life are not as important.

For most students just leaving high school, the chances of succeeding in online college are slim, because they lack the maturity and discipline to stick with a challenging course of study. There's something to be said for the campus experience of "being in college" that makes it clear to a student that his or her JOB for the next few years is to learn a trade or acquire the knowledge that will lead to a rewarding career.

But if you just want to learn for fun or curiousity's sake, there many excellent online college courses you can take. Many prestigious universities, such as MIT, Stanford, Yale and Notre Dame, offer free online courses, and in some cases, you can earn actual college credits. See my articles Free Online College Courses, Free Online College Courses - Part Deux and Free Online College Courses - Part Three to see the variety of online college courses that are avaialble.

Have you gotten a degree by taking online college courses? Post your experience here...

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Most recent comments on "Online College or Campus Learning?"

Posted by:

Mary Axford
23 Aug 2013

I am a librarian at Georgia Tech and have been here since 1988. It is certainly true that students can get an adequate education online, but I would argue there are benefits to being on campus beyond the ones you suggest. You have to choose your college carefully, but one thing that employers are emphasizing is working in teams, and many colleges do a lot of assignments where students do work in teams and evaluate themselves and each other. Many colleges also offer freshman seminars where students learn about things like working in groups, figuring out what is expected in their major, how to create a resume, time management skills, and so on. Many colleges are also offering problem-based learning opportunities where students work on solving real world problems, together, and learn research skills in the process. As a librarian, I am available to all my students to help them with their research projects - knowing where to start on a topic can be a hurdle, especially in this age of too much information. I do a lot of work with them online, but some things are better if I can show them. And the social aspects are important. I am not a fan of drunken partying, but many students make friendships in college that last a lifetime. College-age students learn from a campus environment how to live on their own, and how to develop the social skills they need as adults and employees (we hope, anyway). Students here are strongly encouraged to study or work abroad, and this school works hard to help them afford to do so - the cost is often no more than semester(s) on campus. We are trying to give students skills to compete in a global economy. So, while it is certainly possible to get an adequate education online, there are good benefits to on-campus education. Please don't see this as a knee-jerk reaction, but as offering a viewpoint from my experience working on a campus.

Posted by:

23 Aug 2013

Maybe online college would be good for reducing the costs of an 'in person college' or for remedial courses. Other wise I think most of them are just considered by employers to be 'Write a check Tech degrees', marginally better than a HS degree.

Posted by:

23 Aug 2013

Your article correct Bob. I have attended both the "ivory tower" colleges and universities and attended school online.

I received my Associates degree and Bachelor of Arts degree by living on campus and attending classes. I trained online to become a Medical Coder.

I feel that being around people from other countries, different socioeconomic backgrounds and different beliefs, by living on a university campus, gave me more empathy and compassion towards others.

Posted by:

24 Aug 2013

Bob, perhaps President Obama is one of your followers. I tweeted this yesterday...

Did you hear the President's speech? He used Georgia Tech's MOOC Master's degree as an example.

Remarks by the President on College Affordability -- Buffalo, NY
State University of New York Buffalo Buffalo, New York THE PRESIDENT: Hello, Buffalo! (Applause.) Hello, Bulls! (Applause.) Well, it is good to be back in Buffalo, good to be back in the north. (Applause.) I want to begin by making sure we all...

Posted by:

24 Aug 2013

Although cost has been addressed here, there is something greatly missing from online courses. IMO the interaction, in person, among students and professors is an integral part of being a well-rounded person. Nothing can compare to the classroom atmosphere of debate, exchanging of ideas and just pure intellectual stimulation. I miss it terribly. It is just as much a part of learning and contains the true essence of what education is all about--the exchange of ideas and the pursuit of further knowledge beyond the textbooks. Not everything comes down to money.

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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Online College or Campus Learning? (Posted: 23 Aug 2013)
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