Gas or Class: Rising Gas Prices Fuel Online Course Enrollment

Have soaring gas prices pushed online course enrollment past the tipping point? This is a question addressed in a July 8, 2008 Chronicle of Higher Education article titled, “Rising Gas Prices Fuel Increse In Online Learning.” Author Jeffrey R. Young presented some compelling data, including the following:

  • The Tennessee Board of Regents reports that summer enrollment in online courses is up 29 percent this summer over last year.
  • At Brevard Community College, in Cocoa, Fla., summer enrollment in online courses is up nearly 25 percent.
  • Harrisburg Area Community College, in Pennsylvania, saw its summer online enrollment rise 15 percent to 20 percent.
  • At Northampton Community College, summer online enrollment is up 18 percent.

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Noting this increased interest, the article further highlights how certain online schools and traditional schools with online programs are now endeavoring to capitalize on the trend, as explained below:

  • The SUNY Learning Network, the online incarnation of the State University of New York, offers prospective students access to an online calculator that helps them determine how much they will save in gas costs by taking classes online.
  • Colorado State University, which is launching a new online program this fall, has decided to waive the program’s $50 application fee to attract more students concerned about gas prices.

Despite the reported increase in online enrollments, administrators at the University of Phoenix, the largest provider of online education, repot that there has not been a spike in online enrollments this summer nor have representatives heard much about gas prices affecting students’ choice of formats.

This might be due in part to Phoenix’s ground classes being designed to minimize drive time by meeting just once a week for four-hour sessions, with textbooks and library services delivered online.

The evening courses I teach for DeVry are designed similarly: classes meet once a week for four hours with an online component designed to provide two to four additional hours of educational experience. That being said, I still have students who admirably drive upwards of 30 miles to the campus from places like Delano, Wasco and Shafter. I also have one student that drives more than 40 miles from Lake Isabella!

I suspect that as gas prices continue to climb there will be increased demand for online classes. Anecdotally speaking I have seen an ongoing increase in the advertisement and availability of online courses — both individual classes, certificate programs and degrees.

While I can’t verify this, I feel as if I have seen more schools offering additional programs during the past few months. Likely, if it is true, it is merely a coincidence, because developing and launching an online learning experience is not something you can do in just a few months.

Nevertheless, as an online adjunct instructor and as someone who feels technology can both increase the availability of education and enhance a student’s ability to learn (in classrooms or online), I am pleased to see the increase in online education — whatever the reason might be. Personally, I welcome additional opportunities to teach online because I would appreciate a chance to save a few (hundred) dollars in gas!