Online colleges present an alternative option for students across the country as budget cuts force community colleges and other higher education institutions to close. According to The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, “44 states and the District of Columbia will be in the red next year.” The nation is facing a budget crisis, and state lawmakers are left with no choice but to make radical cuts in funding. But where should cuts be made? Education is often targeted, and one of the first areas to see budget cuts.
Online education has expanded rapidly within the past few years and, despite predictions that enrollment would “begin to level off,” colleges across the nation have reported all-time enrollment highs in online programs in 2009. In fact, enrolment in online degree programs increased by 21% in last year, alone.
One online college has broken from tradition and taken a “traditionally” non-profit educational approach. Western Governors University, an online college based out of Salt Lake City, Utah, is the first and only non-profit online school. Online schools are, typically, for-profit institutions and are funded largely by the tuition their students pay. This tuition, in turn, often comes from federal aid awarded to students by the government. Recent criticism has focused primarily on this federal aid usage, unfavorable loan repayment rates and the recruiting tactics used by for-profits to enroll their students.
It’s October 15, 2010 and Clinton, Iowa’s Ashford University is welcoming more than 700 students from 48 states for their graduation ceremony the following day. These 700 students have never met face-to-face and many, if not all, have never been to Iowa, but earned their degrees together. Sounds confusing? The more than 700 students taking part in graduation ceremonies earned their associates, bachelors, and masters’ degrees online. “Many of our students meet face-to-face for the first time at graduation,” says Dr. Jane McAulliffe, president of Ashford University.
Online college officials met recently with state and federal education officials at the annual President’s Forum in Washington, a conference organized by for- profit school, Excelsior College. The President’s Forum is an association comprised of “accredited, national, adult-serving institutions and programs,” that focuses on “enhancing available resources through new partnerships, collaborations, and learning networks that support desired change in the structure of higher education.”