In 2012, tuition increases continued to outpace inflation at a rate of 4.8 percent. A post on the factors behind rising college tuition that we put out last summer recounted just how this cost continues to grow at such an alarming rate, driving away would-be students and whipping the remaining students into a frenzy. Yet the problem persists, leading us to wonder: Is there an end in sight?

Feeling the pinch, college and universities are looking to new approaches, like online classes, to make college degrees affordable again. Online classes, previously discounted by some at traditional colleges, are now being considered as a serious alternative for cutting costs for both students and schools. In a 2010 survey, 74 percent of those surveyed at public universities and 52 percent of those at private non-profit universities considered online courses critical to their long-term strategies. The recent explosion of MOOCs offer more evidence of colleges and universities looking to online classes to bring costs down.

And why not? Online classes can offer the same quality of education without the fluff that often jacks up the cost. Here are three really good reasons why:

1. Less Infrastructure

Construction. Plumbing. Pathways. Landscaping. Maintenance. It’s all really expensive. And yet the cycle of construction at colleges and universities has become never-ending. For example, Loma Linda University in California is building a new career college for the hefty sum of $65 million. Meanwhile, the University of Kentucky is shelling out $100 million on a new science center and $65 million to upgrade their aging business school building. Universities act like this is a good thing for students, but it’s really donors and students who end up footing the bill.

But online classes don’t require so much infrastructure. They need only servers and geniuses to keeping websites up and running. Buildings can hold only limited numbers of students in each classroom, but websites can expand their capacity in just days and at a tiny fraction of the cost.

2. More Focus on Learning

Unfortunately, much of the additional costs that universities take on aren’t about improving the quality of learning at all. They’re about looking good in the rankings, pampering faculty and students, and keeping up with the university next door. But too often, in all this mess, they lose sight of the end goal of helping students learn better.

Online classes, however, are a different story. There’s only so much room for vanity in online classes. Without fancy buildings to look at and pep rallies to get the blood pumping, students have only one thing to focus on: “Am I actually learning anything in this course? Am I getting my money’s worth?” And as students have more online courses available to them from different schools, they will have the freedom to leave useless classes and move to those that give them the education they’re looking for.

In short, colleges and universities will have to improve their game to stay competitive.

3. Broader Customer Base

The typical student body at a large university is about 30,000. That number is limited by the amount of seats in classrooms. Since schools can’t really get more students than that (without spending more on construction, that is), they can’t bring in more money unless they raise tuition. Booo!!!

But online classes let schools expand their reach to greater numbers of students for less money. That means they can spread out the costs of running their university between more students and tuition stops growing or even shrinks. Sounds pretty good to us. And I’m guessing that sounds pretty good to all the colleges and universities that are taking notice of the advantages of online classes.

Are you thinking about taking an online class? You can learn more about them at our Online Classes page.

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