Online Community College? What Are the Pros and Cons?
For many students, the primary benefit of community college is that it is local to their community. In recent years, however, community colleges have begun to offer more classes online and plans for an all-online community college in California are underway.
So, what are the benefits of attending community college online, and are their any drawbacks? Keep reading to find out.
The Evolution of Online Education
The first American community college was born in 1901 and, over the past eleven decades, they have served the educational needs of nontraditional and financially constrained students. One of the biggest draws of community college as compared to traditional colleges and universities is that they were local, and they provided a more convenient, reduced-cost alternative.
From modest beginnings, the National Center for Education Statistics says that the community college student population has grown to over 6.4 million students. Of those students, nearly 2 million are enrolled in at least one online course.
Online education is nothing new, at least not in the realm of modern education. Technically speaking, however, the technology needed to facilitate online education (namely, computers) is over 170 years old. The precursor to online education was correspondence courses which were first offered in Great Britain. Instructors developed lessons and sent them to students by mail who then completed the assignment and mailed it back.
The advent of the Internet has made a great many things possible that were once unfathomable, and it has been an instrumental tool in the development of modern education.
In 1984, the Electronic University Network (EUN) was established to help colleges and universities expand their offering of online courses. In 1994, an offline adult learning center called the Computer Assisted Learning Center (CALC) moved online to become CALCampus, offering the first real “online” courses with real-time instruction and interaction. In 2002, MIT began to offer lectures and course materials online through the OpenCourseWare project.
What Does Online Community College Look Like Today?
By 2009, the number of students taking courses online spiked by 187% with a total of more than 5.5 million students taking online classes. More and more universities and colleges began offering not only classes online, but entire degree programs. In an effort to stay in tune with the times, community colleges have begun to offer online classes as well.
It is only recently, however, that an exclusive online community college has been created.
In 2018, Governor Jerry Brown and other lawmakers passed a $100 million state budget with an annual addition of $20 million to create a community college that exists entirely online. The goal is to provide certificate and credentialing programs for young people who are struggling to adapt to the needs of an ever-changing marketplace. More specifically, it is aimed at the 2.5 million California residents between the ages of 25 and 34 who have only a high school diploma or some college.
Not only will this online community college offer programs to help students develop marketable skills, but the online framework allows students to progress at their own pace. Courses will be shorter than traditional college classes and will incorporate elements of adaptive learning based on competency so students don’t have to waste time or money relearning things they already know.
Though there is some pushback from people who would prefer the money go to supporting existing community colleges, this online community college is set to offer courses in a variety of relevant fields including manufacturing, healthcare, child development, in-home support services, and the service sector. It should be ready to enroll students by the end of 2019.
What Are the Pros and Cons of an Online Degree?
Though this online community college in California may be the first of its kind, it certainly won’t be the last. In the coming years, more colleges and universities will begin to offer not only online classes, but entire degree programs online. We are also likely to see more states developing their own online-only community colleges.
As you consider your options for postsecondary education, it is worth thinking about the pros and cons for online community college. Here are some thing to think about:
Pros for Online Community College:
- Greater flexibility with class schedules and availability – no location constraints or lost time spent commuting.
- More options than traditional college/university courses – wide variety of classes and programs to choose from.
- Less expensive than traditional college tuition – no fees for room and board, less overhead for the school means lower fees for students.
- Virtual study groups that can be accessed from anywhere – some schools also offer options for in-person studying.
- Connections to local employers after graduation for job opportunities.
Cons for Online Community College:
- Students need to be highly independent and self-motivated – you’ll need to find the time to attend class and do your school work on your own.
- Limited face time with professors and other students – online support is available, but some students may do better with face-to-face education.
- You lose the traditional college campus experience and, depending on the program, access to other campus amenities.
- There are certain technological requirements – if you don’t own a computer, you may need to use your local library or buy one.
Only you can decide whether the benefits of an online degree program outweigh the drawbacks, and you should take your time making your decision. While you’re thinking, take a moment to consider one more problem that comes with online education – the potential for scams.
A Warning About Online Education Scams
It is difficult to spend much time on the Internet at all without seeing banner ads for online degree programs. These programs seem to offer an affordable and convenient alternative to traditional college or university programs, but that isn’t always the case. In fact, many of them are for-profit college or outright scams. So, how can you tell if an online program is a scam?
Here are some warning signs that an online program might not be what it claims to be:
- Information about the program’s accreditation is unclear or it doesn’t come from one of the more highly recognized accreditation groups (the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation are the best).
- The name of the school is very similar to that of an existing school, just slightly different (for example, Harvard Technological University sounds prestigious but has no affiliation with Harvard University).
- Students are promised unrealistic results such as accelerated degree programs marketed as being “fast” or “easy” – if the program doesn’t require you to complete credits to obtain a degree, it’s not legitimate.
- The actual address of the school is difficult to find – you should also check the web address to make sure it ends with “edu.”
- There is a lot of pressure to enroll and to enroll quickly – salespeople for for-profit schools are often aggressive and can pressure students into enrolling.
- Students are required to pay a significant amount of money upfront – a legitimate program will only ask you to pay for the courses you are taking each term or semester.
Before enrolling in an online degree program, do your research to ensure that it is a legitimate school and to make sure that it is the right choice for you.
The beauty of community college is that it is designed specifically for non-traditional students. It is ideal for students who need flexible scheduling and who can’t afford tuition at a traditional college or university. Online community college will make it possible for non-traditional students who don’t live in close proximity to a physical community college to attend classes and obtain a degree.