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Comparing costs of online courses
Hill Jack
Sen. Jack Hill

Although every school and program differs in terms of tuition and fees, some online programs have been able to offer online degrees at a lower cost to students than their on-campus degree. Typically savings are generated through fee reductions. Since online course students are not on campus, they are not using campus facilities like the athletic center, library, study rooms, or classrooms in general.

Due to this, many schools have waived certain fees for online students that traditional on-campus students must pay in order to enroll. However, any student enrolled in the University System that is taking a course on eCore will pay eCore tuition which is cheaper than the brick-and-mortar classes in the system. Also, HOPE scholarships can cover the eCore tuition.

There are additional cost savings that will be arriving in the near future. Currently, there are 24 eCore classes and approximately 12 offer textbooks which are either significantly cheaper than paper textbooks or free. According to USG, by the end of next school year all eCore classes will have a free textbook.

Some institutions such as Georgia Tech and Columbus State have been able to find more cost-cutting measures, making online degrees even more affordable for students.

Georgia Tech has been able to cut their online masters in computer science to a fraction of the cost of their on-campus computer science degree. The online degree costs students $134 per credit hour, while the comparable on-campus degree is $415 per credit hour for in-state students ($1,139 for out-of-state students). This brings the total cost for the online degree to roughly $7,000.

Columbus State found similar cost savings in their DN3 program which only costs students $1,200 (this does not include books and other material costs) for each seven-week, two-course term during the 2013-14 academic year — making it one of the cheapest degrees offered at Columbus State.

Other states
Like Georgia, other states have become interested in an online model for higher education. States like Florida and California have taken legislative measures to ensure their public higher education institutions begin exploring online options.

Recently, the Florida Legislature has directed the University of Florida to start investigating their ability to offer fully online bachelor degree programs and set the price for residents at three-quarters of the campus in-state tuition (roughly $4,700). This would allow the university to not only provide a more cost-effective degree option, but also allow greater access to students that may not be able to physically be on campus.

Florida is also looking into the possibility of enabling high school students to earn academic credit for online courses, including MOOCs. Both courses of action would allow Florida to make bachelor degrees more affordable while providing greater access to students.

Thanks to legislation in California, students enrolled at a California State University campus will have the opportunity to enroll in online courses available at other CSU campuses. As long as space is available, any student enrolled at a CSU campus who meets specified requirements can enroll in an online course offered by another CSU campus without formal admission and without payment of additional tuition and fees.

California hopes that by providing students with the ability to take classes from other campuses, students will be able to graduate quicker than if they had to wait for a course offering on their campus.

The future of online courses in Georgia
In the appropriation bill for fiscal year 2015, the University System of Georgia was directed by the General Assembly to “develop a strategic plan for increased utilization of online educational resources and pricing structure reflective of costs associated with providing such education.”  The University System, at the end of their research, should be able to provide a tuition structure for online courses.

In response to this directive, the University System has assembled the Task Force on New Models of Instruction to examine implementation pathways for online courses. The system has also created a new system office position that will be dedicated to advancing affordable degree completion options for students.

Hopefully the findings of the task force will allow Georgia to not only expand online course opportunities but also create a tuition model that will provide affordable access to Georgia residents hoping to advance their education.

Forces are moving to accelerate online courses and degree programs. Rising tuition prices, the concern over student debt and the rapid growth and availability of technology is pushing colleges and universities, some screaming and resisting all the way, into the bold new world of competitive pricing for higher education.

Those who are nimble and quick to seize the advantages in pricing that online courses can offer will gain headway in what will become a more competitive market place over the next years.

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