The young are obsessed with the Internet, and most new technologies and trends target teens and young adults due to their tech-savvy. In fact, there are plenty of memes mocking older adults for their lack of comprehension of various technologies. Yet, when it comes to online education, it seems that most eLearning programs are geared toward older adults. What gives?
While young people can afford to devote four full years to an on-campus undergraduate program, most adults need to balance a college education with other established commitments, like full-time work and child-raising. The truth is that online school is often more advantageous for older students, who benefit from the accessibility, low cost and flexibility to a greater degree than teens and young adults.
While there are more than 5,300 college and university campuses across the U.S., none of them are particularly conveniently located. Because higher education requires plenty of space, most schools are based just outside cities, in rarely visited boroughs or beyond the reach of typical public transit. Worse, not all schools are created equal; plenty specialize in particular areas of learning, such as engineering or business, and many boast reputations far superior to others.
Ultimately, there is no guarantee that the convenient college nearby will provide students with the education they need to excel in their careers. For younger students, this is no problem; they can pull up roots and devote four or more years to life in a completely new place. However, older students have commitments that often force them to stay in place: a 9-to-5 job, kids’ schools, spouses’ employment, etc. Thus, it is this population that benefits most from online education, which can be accessed anywhere – often, at any time – through an Internet-connected device.
What’s more, graduate and undergraduate online degrees tend to be more accessible for their sometimes-lower barriers for entry. For example, many online MBA programs waive GMAT participation for adults who have a certain amount of real-world business experience. Online schools might be more likely to accept students with lower GPAs or those with great a long stretch of time since their last experience with education. These are all advantageous to the non-traditional student hoping to bolster their credentials with a degree or certificate.
Though some online programs do cost less in tuition than their on-campus alternatives, the difference in credit-hour price is not usually significant. However, that isn’t to say that going to school online costs the same as going to school in the traditional manner – in fact, there are immense savings to be had by logging into class instead of traveling to a physical campus.
The most obvious savings are achieved by eliminating the commute. Because online students can check into their courses anywhere they have an Internet-connected device, they can avoid the costs of public transit as well as the greater costs of car ownership, which include not only fuel but also insurance, maintenance and on-campus parking.
Additionally, online students avoid the costs of relocating near campus, overpriced campus meal plans and classroom fees. Many can also severely reduce or eliminate the heavy costs of study materials, such as expensive textbooks, because many online professors provide excerpts or link access to readings through their eLearning portals. Though these might seem like insignificant savings, they can add up to several thousands of dollars every semester, meaning older students on tight budgets come out ahead by attending courses online.
On-campus classes are synchronous, meaning they adhere to a strict schedule that every enrolled student must follow. This is to ensure that professors and students meet in the same classroom at the same time every week to teach and learn. Though there are a few online programs that include synchronous events, one of the most beneficial features of eLearning is its asynchronous nature, meaning professors and students can log into classes at any time of day to complete assignments, engage with classmates and perform other educational tasks.
This is ideal for the older student with existing commitments. Rather than trying to leave work early every Tuesday and Thursday or struggling to find a sitter for Monday mornings, students can attend classes whenever they have available time, be it before dawn, during lunch breaks or in the evenings after kids’ bedtimes. This flexibility is critically important when trying to fit education in between existing commitments.
When younger students graduate from their programs, they are leaving school for the first time in their lives. Many do not know how to apply their new skills and knowledge, and as a result, many gravitate toward low-paying jobs that do not take full advantage of their degrees. Conversely, older adults who have steady employment can immediately use their enhanced abilities in their careers. Some employers recognize the hard work and dedication of returning to school and reward employees with immediate raises and promotions; in addition, older students know to advertise their newfound credentials to secure more advantageous employment.
College isn’t just for the young – and tech isn’t either. Online learning opportunities can radically improve older workers’ lifestyles with minimal imposition, so older workers should strongly consider enrolling today.