Online College: Live > Virtual
By Judy Yoo '14
The words below are a part of “Saturday Night Live’s” hilarious commercial aired on Season 35, addressing the benefits of attending the University of Westfield Online:

“In a tough job market as this one, you need every advantage as you can get.”

“I earned my degree sitting at my home in my pajamas.”

“The University of Westfield online gave me the skills I need to get the job I want. Skills like not mentioning in a job interview that I went to an Internet college.”

“University of Westfield online gives you the skills you need to answer when someone asks you what school you are from. Techniques like changing the subject, pretending your phone is vibrating and you need to take a call, mumbling and faking a heart attack.”

“They taught me the name of other colleges I could state that I went to. Great … believable names. They will email you a PDF of a diploma.”

The commercial ridicules the idea of an online college and the advantages it claims to offer. In this article, I will analyze both the pros and cons of an online education.

At this time, attending colleges and universities is no easy matter. Other than the fact that competition for admission has greatly increased, the cost of attendance is jaw-dropping. The annual cost of attendance of an elite college like Amherst is approximately $55,584 - $57,534. Of course, the College is more than generous with its financial aid, allowing low-income students to freely learn. However, other colleges are hardly that generous. In a study by The Project on Student Debt, an initiative of the Institute for College Access and Success, it was found that students who graduated from college in 2008 with loans carried an average debt of $23,200. This average debt was an increase of nearly 25 percent from prior graduates.

Attending an online college is one solution to this problem, as you can live at home while attending college. Students who attend colleges and universities have to budget thousands of dollars for room and board. Money also adds up if the school you attend is distant and travel expenses are required. An online college can also allow you to attend the college without sacrificing your work experience. In fact, most students who attend an online college hold full-time jobs. These are just a few of the pros of attending an online college. Other advantages of online colleges include learning new technologies, saving time, practicing software usage and exercising proper discipline.

Nevertheless, it is true that society, and employers, look at online colleges in a more negative light than that of a degree earned on a traditional path. This bad reputation has been fostered not because of the ineffectiveness of online colleges, but because of the large numbers of scams that exist online. Rio Salado College in Arizona was the target of a scam that highlighted the vulnerability of online education to financial aid fraud. Thirty-eight-year-old Trenda L. Halton made fake students who blended in with real students and assumed her false identities online to participate in classes and collect a share of their aid money. She eventually pled guilty to conspiracy, mail fraud and financial aid fraud. This discovery is significant because Rio Salado College had the reputation as America’s largest online program. Online education makes fraud more probable and, therefore, is less trusted. It is easy to imagine why employers have learned not to trust students who have claimed to graduate from an online college.

Furthermore, an online college cannot replace the high caliber a real interactive education can provide. Learning on a campus, regardless of its rank, allows the students’ thoughts and opinions to be challenged by peers and professors. By being a part of a campus, they can also gain the benefit of school organizations and various community service opportunities that will, in turn, create social networking skills and lasting friendships. I know one of the main reasons students choose to come to college is because we get the opportunity to ask questions and get immediate feedback. We are able to inquire and debate without fear of being denied answers. Ultimately, this interaction is what makes a traditional education better than the one provided by an online college.

Issue 07, Submitted 2010-10-27 04:19:48