Should I Send my Kid to an Online College?

by Jason Finkelstein- April 20, 2012 • 4:41 pm

With the rising cost of education and a total national student debt of over $1 trillion dollars it’s not hard to see how many high school students may be looking for a low-cost alternative to a traditional college education. Recently a slew of new technology companies have cropped up to tackle that problem through providing high quality online education.

Making the old school new school

Take 2tor for example, which partners with schools like Georgetown and UNC to help bring their curricula online.

The degrees 2tor grants largely mirror those offered by existing online universities; choices are limited to things like master’s degrees in teaching and public health administration. However, the fact that 2Tor’s degrees are taught and granted by name-brand schools ensures that the coursework is high quality.

The brand also gives graduates a much easier time finding a job than if they took courses from somewhere like University of Phoenix or DeVry which employers may see as poor substitutes to a traditional college education.

An online ivy

Other companies are seeking to make high caliber online curriculums of their own. The most ambitious is The Minerva Project, which aims to create an online university to rival those in the Ivy League.

That may sound like an impossible goal, but Minerva has the stuff to back it up. Former Harvard President and U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Larry Summers is on its advisory board and it’s already raised over $25 million dollars from investors.

Instead of focusing on technical degrees like most online colleges do today, Minerva plans to provide students with the sort of rich liberal arts education you get at elite universities. It’ll be selective, too, and will only admit the sort of students who would feel comfortable at Stanford, Princeton or the University of Chicago.

So should your kids apply to an online university next fall?

The idea of getting a quality education at half the price is naturally very appealing. However, it still remains to be seen if these new online educational organizations will live up to what they promise. The Minerva Project isn’t planning to admit its first class until some time after 2014 and 2Tor is fairly new, too.

Still, even if these companies successfully provide high quality instruction and a chance at an excellent job, they will always be missing one crucial component of the college experience: community.

While it’s true I read books and had professors in college that radically changed the way I think, my greatest lessons came from discussions with my peers. Although it’s probable that these new online programs will integrate with Facebook and other social media, that’s no substitute for the random conversations about philosophy and politics that take place in college dining halls and dorm rooms.

Minerva claims that it will recruit from all over the world, exposing their students to other cultures and different ways of thinking. However, it seems hard to believe that will actual happen if it has no physical venues where its students can interact with one another.

The physical space of a university and proximity to other young people similarly focused on improving themselves intellectually is often overlooked by pundits who decry the cost and quality of American education. The fact is, it’s a very important part of college that can’t be replicated online.

So what do you think? Will online schools be on your kid’s college app list when they reach their senior year?

Image via 401k.

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