Comparing the cost of a purchase from different providers requires using the same variables when evaluating them. Attending a campus college usually involves living expenses that are different from those for living at home in addition to the cost of travel. The loss of wages earned from full time employment can add to the cost of attending a campus college, while attending an online college may allow a student to continue working. Excluding costs that are not related to accumulating course credits makes an evaluation of relative costs a meaningful measure.

Pricing the Product

Delivery of information is the product that online as well as campus colleges sell, and they charge for it in measurable units known as credits or course hours. Both kinds of institutions require a certain number of credits to earn an undergraduate or a graduate degree, providing a basis for making a fair comparison of costs. The fairest way to compare costs is to use the same set of requirements when evaluating each institution. An examination of the number of required credits and the cost per credit hour at each institution provides a basis for making a decision.

Finding Results of Surveys on College Costs

The U.S. News and World Report recently published an article on the relative costs of online and campus education that is based on data from 300 programs. Some of the results point to statistics that may surprise potential students. The report found that credits are sometimes more expensive at an online college than at a campus college.

A report from the Learning House and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) is expected to appear in October with more information about comparative costs for college. Early releases of data from the survey indicate that the number of campus colleges that charge the same for online and on campus classes is in excess of 60 percent. In addition, 36 percent reported charging higher tuition for online courses than for campus instruction.

Understanding the Exceptions and the Expenses

Attending a campus college is more expensive for out-of-state students than for state residents, and attendance at a private school usually is more costly. Graduate credits usually cost more than undergraduate credits, making it essential for students to precisely compare the details of each program.

Teaching an online course requires considerably different skills than those typically used in face to face education. Development of online course content is a costly investment, according to a senior fellow at AASCU. Mastering computer technology is essential for online instructors, a skill that is not always desired or possessed by professors. Support services for online instruction are extensive, including these:

• access to online grades
• monitoring of student posts
• technical support around the clock
• writing labs
• optional tutoring programs
• ongoing training in online platforms for instructors

Online instruction is a convenience for students who desire it, but it is an expensive endeavor for colleges. Considering the hidden costs of providing online education may help students understand some of the factors that affect the price of tuition.