Paying for classes

At some institutions, the online classes taken for college credit are actually slightly more expensive than traditional face-to-face classes. That’s because the schools, in an effort to offset the cost of developing online courses, tack on an extra online-learning fee. Florida International University’s online fee is $160 for a standard three-credit course, added to the normal tuition of $615 per class.

Such fees haven’t slowed the popularity of online learning at the University of Central Florida, where an astounding 74 percent of students take at least one online course. Even with the fees, President John Hitt argues that the online revolution is saving students money.

Thanks to online courses, Hitt said, UCF is no longer constrained by the number of classrooms available at its Orlando campus. As a result, the university can offer more of the classes that students need to graduate on time, preventing them from having to stick around for an additional year.

“That’s easily $10,000 or so for a year,” Hitt said. “That’s a huge savings.”

UCF has built a national reputation as a leader in online education, and Hitt says he’s “very optimistic” about what the future will hold.

Administrators say online classes – perhaps surprisingly – are helping enliven the school’s traditional campus. Most UCF students aren’t fully online – they take a mix of online and face-to-face classes. But the scheduling flexibility of online classes has given students more time to hang out on campus and participate in student clubs or other activities, administrators say.

Online classes have also transformed the teaching practices of traditional face-to-face classes. At UCF, it’s common for professors teaching classroom courses to nevertheless use the online learning management system to post interactive activities for students. The standard “chalk and talk” lecture approach is fast disappearing, said Joel Hartman, UCF’s vice provost for information technologies and resources.

“There aren’t that many pure face-to-face courses left anymore,” Hartman said.

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