Online Education to Disrupt College Tuition Costs

Published December 3, 2015

Despite rapidly increasing college tuition costs in recent years, less-expensive online options have been slow to achieve mainstream acceptance, but Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, says that is going to change as more online courses become accredited.

Massive open online courses (MOOCs), online courses defined by a lack of participation caps and tuition charges, have been developing since the late 1990s, but Vedder says they have yet to achieve the grand promises their advocates made when they were first introduced.

“MOOCs have not achieved all the hype they were supposed to,” Vedder said. “The main problem has been accreditation. Accreditors do not accredit courses … universities [do]. Universities are packagers of what equates to a degree. So far, there has been an inability to get individual [MOOC] courses accredited by the education establishment.”

Vedder says even with these setbacks, MOOC-created disruptive innovation is imminent.

“I think up to 60 online courses will soon be accepted by major universities,” Vedder said. “It isn’t here yet, but I think it’s coming. The establishment, residential universities will fight this because it could be serious competition.”

‘Unbundling’ Education

Andrew Kelly, director of the American Enterprise Institute’s Center on Higher Education Reform, says breaking higher education into smaller pieces, which has been referred to as “unbundling” it, will benefit students. Kelly says unbundling would give students more choices and lower costs if students were able to take MOOCs rather than be forced to obtain an expensive degree by spending four years on campus.

Kelly says the college experience should also incorporate more skills-gap training, boot camps, and specialized-skills learning in short-term, immersive classes.

“There are a lot of reasons for experimenting with maybe limited federal voucher money for some of these unbundled offerings, encouraging people to take lower-cost options,” Kelly said. “I think you’ll see an increasing amount of movement toward what an unbundled world would look like.”

Ashley Bateman ([email protected]) writes from Alexandria, Virginia.

Image by OTA Photos.