5 questions to ask before enrolling in college online

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Before the pandemic forced almost all colleges online, digital and distance learning was already growing.

For nearly a decade, online learning options have attracted new students while more traditional college options have dwindled. And the first undergraduate enrollment figures for this fall follow this pattern: Primarily online colleges have increased enrollment by nearly 7% since last year, while overall undergraduate enrollment appears to be down. about 4%.

The high degree of access and flexibility offered by online programs means that they are likely to remain a popular and rewarding choice for many students. But online courses aren’t foolproof or for everyone, and not all are the same. You should be prepared to ignore the advertisements and quick sign-up arguments some schools make and carefully compare programs, teachers, types of schools, and costs.

If you’re considering taking online classes, here are five questions to ask before you get started.

Is Online Right For Me?

It’s crucial to start by asking yourself if you are the type of student who is likely to be successful in a fully online format. This may not be the case.

“Online is fine for some students,” said John Katzman, founder and CEO of Noodle Partners, which helps colleges run their programs online. But, he says, “To be successful in an online program, you have to be organized and motivated. And, of course, it helps to have a place to work, with privacy and a reliable wi-fi connection.

Katzman also notes research showing that students who need additional supports or accommodations for learning may not do well online.

Of course, the quality of a student’s online courses depends not only on their personal learning styles and needs, but also on the online teaching style a program offers. “If the program you signed up for is nothing more than Zoom Lectures, you might find yourself dozing off,” Katzman explains. “Not everyone online is created equal. Ask the schools you are considering applying to if you can see examples of their course materials online, ”he says.

Is there a campus that I can access?

Although online education has grown, it is increasingly local. Now, most online students take classes within 50 miles of their school’s physical campus. In addition to being able to meet with a counselor or teacher in person, there are many key learning and support resources on campus that may not be available online.

“Online students should insist on visiting the library, even if it has to be done virtually,” says Kevin Walthers, president of Allan Hancock College, a public community college in California. Because, he says, “A university library is more than books and magazines. A good college will make the library the center of the academic program, with librarians teaching or providing training in research methods and media literacy.

Katzman, from Noodle, agrees with the importance of having access to a campus. He says another, often overlooked, benefit of studying locally is that you’ll gain more recognition in the job market. “Local employers know people from this school, they hired people from this school, they trust people from this school,” he says. “In Minnesota, for example, employers love Carleton and they love Macalester. They don’t have an opinion on Tulane. But, of course, the opposite is true in Louisiana.

Is the school for profit?

It is important to know what type of college you are considering because they can work very differently, especially online. Not all for-profit schools are bad, but many have had significant issues including low completion rates and students with high debt. Employers may also see them differently.

In almost all cases, if the program you want is offered online through a local community college, it is a better option than the same program at a for-profit college.

“Any course or program taught by a for-profit college is almost certainly available from the local community college, taught by more qualified faculty for a much lower tuition rate,” says Walthers. “And online students have the advantage of being able to choose from any community college in their state without paying a premium for non-resident tuition.”

According to a 2018 tuition survey, for example, the price per credit hour at a two-year for-profit college was $ 601, compared to just $ 135 at a public community college. And the Department of Education estimates that a year of tuition at a two-year median for-profit college costs $ 27,356, while the median cost at a two-year public college was $ 9,787, in 2018.

While community colleges are your cheapest bet, there are other factors to consider as well, says Sara Leoni, CEO of GreenFig, which designs out-of-the-box business skills courses offered at colleges. “At the end of the day, you have to figure out what learning outcomes you’re trying to achieve.”

If you’re looking for a specific skill to help you take on more responsibility (and pay for) at work, a short course leading to a no-credit certificate may be your best option. But if you’re looking to make a complete career change or start a job that requires college education, you’ll likely need to look to the degrees offered by two- and four-year colleges.

What is the size of the classes and who teaches my class?

New research shows that to be effective, online classes should actually be smaller than in-person classes. Unfortunately, some schools pack too many students into their online offerings or hire inexpensive, less qualified teachers to teach online.

It’s a good idea to ask questions not only about the number of students in a specific online class, but also the average class size in the school for online courses. Also ask about instructors for online courses – for example, if they are full-time, on-campus, or remote-only.

“I would like to know who the instructor is and what are their references or experiences? »Said Léoni. “Do I think they have the knowledge to run a course where I can achieve my learning outcomes? “

How do I pay?

Since some online schools have encountered issues listing student loans as part of enrollment, which has resulted in increased student debt and defaults, it is essential that you understand what you are doing. pay and how. Ask specifically if the school is getting money directly that is in fact a loan in your name, money that you owe whether you graduate or not.

“Families should read the fine print when they enroll in college. Ask specifically if the financial assistance program includes loans because the [for-profit] sometimes schools will show loans in a way that makes them look like grants, ”Walthers explains. “First generation students are particularly vulnerable,” he said.

Finally, keep this in mind: education may be the best investment you’ve ever made, but it’s an investment. Asking good questions can help you do it wisely.

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