Thesis: Online Education’s Best Days are Behind Them

Everyone has seen advertisements for some online college campus such as University of Phoenix which strive to offer cheap affordable college classes that are convenient for anyone to take, since the classes are all online. This industry has grown tremendously over the previous 10 years as the cost of college has been rising at a much faster rate than inflation (as witnessed by the graph below).


The rising costs of college are one of the reasons that online university courses became such a prominent alternative to traditional colleges. These universities offered not only convenience, but huge savings when compared to other college campuses. This was due to not only saving on room and board, but as mentioned in Spencer Jakab’s article, “During the 2009-2010 academic year, one-quarter of all Pell Grants and subsidized federal loans went to students at for-profit colleges [such as Apollo Education Group], according to the College Board. That was well above their share of, say, graduates.” These subsidies for the students attending colleges like University of Phoenix even further reduced the cost and increased the savings these consumers felt.

However, this story does not end well for these for-profit online schools as enrollment, and revenue, have decreased significantly from their peak a few years ago. One potential reason for this huge decrease in the early 2010’s of these online college degrees was due to as pointed out in Kevin Carey’s article, “Over the course of a few months in early 2012, leading scientists from Harvard, Stanford and M.I.T. started three companies to provide Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, to anyone in the world with an Internet connection. The courses were free. Millions of students signed up. Pundits called it a revolution.” These online courses are taught by some of the most prestigious teachers in the world, and all that is needed is an internet connection. While this reformation of higher education is revolutionary and is only going to keep increasing its prominence as credentials begin to become recognized by employers from taking these courses, the importance of getting an actual college degree remains significant.

A more viable reason for the decrease for-profit online education schools have felt in enrollments and revenues comes straight from the White House. President Obama announced “his new $60 billion community college initiative to provide two years of community college for free in January.” These community colleges are University of Phoenix’s biggest competitor because they both target people who cannot (or choose not too) pay the steadily rising prices to go to a traditional college. This initiative, if and when passed, will be the final crippling blow to these online for-profit schools that have gained prominence these past few years.

3 thoughts on “Thesis: Online Education’s Best Days are Behind Them

  1. Curtis Simeral

    Do you think that community colleges offering online courses is another factor that is in play? I think that the flexibility of online courses is a big drawing point, so I’m not sure if President Obama’s plan will have a large effect unless CCs expand their offered online coursework

  2. Jaewon Lee

    I haven’t had a chance to take any online course. But the stereotype that I have is that quality of such courses are questioning. Are the courses cheap because the quality of lectures is low or just because there are not many people enrolled in those universities?

  3. Dan Miller

    The importance of a college degree is not fading, as you say. Don’t you think that these MOOCs will become more common? Do they not count as online education?

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