Research Project: How Can Online Learning Reduce The Cost of Higher Education?

A student taking online classes. Source:

Going to college is a luxury as the high cost of tuition creates a clear dividing line between the haves and the have-nots. It is necessary to explore cost-effective alternatives for students who cannot afford traditional higher education and wish to receive one. Due to its recent growth and popularity, online classes are offered as an affordable and accessible option for the students mentioned above. However, online classes must also ensure the effectiveness of student learning which Sean Michael Morris addresses in his article “Pivot to Online: A Student Guide” by discussing how students can succeed in online education.

In her article “A Review of Benefits and Limitations of Online Learning in the Context of the Student, the Instructor, and the Tenured Faculty,” Subhashni Appana states that distance education “is a formal learning activity, which occurs when students and instructors are separated by geographic distance or by time” (Appana 5). Learning is supported by communications technology such as video calls, computers, e-mail, and the internet (Appana 5). In their article, “An Overview of Online Education: Attractiveness, Benefits, Challenges, Concerns and Recommendations,” Chi-Sing Li and Beverly Irby state that “distance learning, especially online education, has gradually become an integral part of teaching in higher education” (Li & Irby 3). Among the benefits of online education are flexibility, digital skills, digital learning and information access, and high cost-effectiveness. In her article, Appana states that “under the right conditions, online learning cannot only be cost-effective, but can actually enrich instructors with skills and knowledge and bring in net profits for an educational institution” (Appana 18). Moreover, she suggests that institutions can save money by developing joint programs and partnering with international institutions to share the costs and reduce risks (Appana 18). From this perspective, the student would not be the only beneficiary but also the college institution.

By implementing online education, universities will save more money by “not having the cost of electricity or classroom cleaning,” as stated by the authors, Li and Irby. Furthermore, in his article “The Promises and Limits of Online Higher Education: Understanding How Distance Education Affects Access, Cost, and Quality,” Di Xu et al. suggest that “online courses have the potential to reduce the cost of providing education by increasing online class size without affecting student outcomes” (Xu et al. 20). In this manner, colleges would not need to construct larger buildings and parking lots to hold more students.

In his book, “The Cost of College,” Michael Regan estimates that “tuition and fees for an in-state resident at a public college might be $9,970 according to the College Board” (Regan 40). This is only the amount for in-state students; out-of-state students can pay up to $11,000 more of tuition and fees than their counterparts (Regan 40). However, students have more to worry about than just tuition fees in higher education. For example, if a college student decides to eat and live on campus, an average additional amount of $10,800 per year could be added in just a public four-year college; books, supplies, and transportation can add more thousands of dollars to this equation (Regan 40). With online learning, the cost of books and transportation will be significantly alleviated since the student will not have to move from one place to another or pay for parking. Besides, some teachers provide the books and materials within their curriculum for free. Thanks to digital learning, students also can rent their books online instead of buying them altogether.

Online classes break the parameters and limitations of traditional education. Distance learning opens more doors to interculturality since students from all over the world can be together in a course, which would be difficult due to the high cost of tuition for non-residents. According to Li and Irby, this mode of learning would enrich the student’s experience and perception. This means that the student would not be limited to their local universities but would have more freedom when choosing their career and institution (Li & Irby 4).

However, despite the significant advances and benefits that online classes bring and the demonstration that they can reduce the cost of higher education, they are not free from the criticism of certain educators and students. These can present some challenges for the student and the instructor. On the part of the student, there may be a lack of motivation, concentration, learning, time management problems, and poor communication between classmates and teachers. This is because online training requires greater performance from the student, so planning and discipline are key to be successful and take full advantage of this type of learning. In his article mentioned above, Morris notes that for students “to succeed as schools pivot to online, students will need to be resourceful,” (Morris), which leads the student to stay in constant communication with their instructor and faculty members and to be constantly active and responsible.

On the other hand, online classes may be challenging for instructors, especially if they have not received adequate training. To avoid challenges and to allow that the classes are not only cost-effective but functional in every sense of the word, institutions should invest in online courses by providing resources, platforms, and training that help the instructor deliver quality courses to the student. The benefits are there; it is the duty of the student, the instructor, and the institution to make it work by contributing together for a better experience that is beneficial for the three. As Appana herself said it in her article: “It is important not only to focus on the costs of developing and delivering an online course or program, but also to focus on potential performance and value-added benefits to both the institution and more importantly to the student” (Appana 19).


Works Cited

Appana, Subhashni. “A Review of Benefits and Limitations of Online Learning in the Context of the Student, the Instructor, and the Tenured Faculty.” International Journal on ELearning, vol. 7, no. 1, 2008, pp. 5-22. ProQuest,

Regan, Michael. The Cost of College. Essential Library, 2020. EBSCOhost,,shib&db=nlebk&AN=2108774&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Morris, Sean Michael. “Pivot to Online: A Student Guide”. Sean Michael Morris, 2020, Accessed 22 Feb 2021.

Li, Chi-Sing, and Beverly Irby. “An Overview of Online Education: Attractiveness, Benefits, Challenges, Concerns and Recommendations.” College Student Journal, vol. 42, no. 2, June 2008, pp. 449–458. EBSCOhost,,shib&db=s3h&AN=32544879&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Xu, Di, et al. “The Promises and Limits of Online Higher Education: Understanding How Distance Education Affects Access, Cost, and Quality.” American Enterprise Institute, American Enterprise Institute, 1 Mar. 2019. EBSCOhost,,shib&db=eric&AN=ED596296&site=eds-live&scope=site.

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