How online education will overtake conventional colleges

Almost nobody can just shell out the full cost of college tuition. Many individuals must borrow money, often from government-run financial aid programs. According to economics professor David Feldman, as more students rely on financial aid to supplement their tuition at for-profit schools, institutions are choosing to charge more. 

In cases like these, federal aid helps the school more than the students. Institutions are able to charge students more because federal loans temporarily cover the more expensive tuition, while the students themselves are not exempted from any financial burden. That is: federal aid helps the school to permanently cover the cost of the student’s attendance, but only temporarily relieves the student of their huge tuition bill.

This brings us to the fundamental concept of supply and demand. The more people decide to enroll in college, the more leeway institutions have to crank up tuition charges. Lucky for us consumers, we have the upper hand in reversing that trend.

As colleges drive up tuition totals, students are beginning to explore other options—mostly on the internet. Online methods of learning have been serving as an increasingly popular alternative to the standard classroom. But if we are to give old-school, sky-high college tuition a run for its money (pun intended), it’s up to us to pursue and take advantage of these offerings. 

Benefits and options in online education

We tend to forget that college—or any type of formal education—is a luxury. In a perfect world, online resources would all be supplemental materials to a full and inexpensive conventional education. Needless to say, this isn’t the case. Schooling and transportation are expensive, and time is valuable.

Traditional higher education is financially impractical, so it’s natural that students will eventually be pushed to explore unconventional tools to save money and time. Before you write off the idea of online education forever, take a step back and think about how much easier life would be without student loans looming over you until 2030.

Cheap, time-saving online resources provide a wealth of information and training, and as they exponentially advance and improve, we can only expect them to gradually replace conventional higher education.All of the following suggestions are already available online, and will certainly become even more popular and widespread over the upcoming years. If you still have doubts, just remember this article when your next tuition bill comes in the mail!


Coursera blends the flexibility and affordability of Netflix with the educational benefits of an intimate classroom. The site has a plethora of offerings from real, rigorous schools that have granted Coursera permission to provide certain courses. These courses have assigned readings, lectures that can be watched at the learner’s own pace and quizzes that can be graded electronically (See the Coursera website for more information.) Over 2,000 courses are at the student’s disposal, and financial aid can be granted conditionally. 

We’re all familiar with generic online resources that offer standard programs like psychology, biology and economics, but Coursera’s programs of study are generally more rigid in schedule and scope. Coursera certainly offers classes in these programs, but also encourages and offers exploration of other areas of study, like computer science, data science, engineering and physical and social sciences.

Khan Academy 

I’ll be honest: Khan Academy has saved me more time on chemistry and physics homework than any tutor I’ve ever hired. This service is completely free: to get started, you just need to provide an email or Facebook login. Since I starting using Khan Academy several years ago, it has expanded to include standardized test prep, a computing category and arts and humanities.

Khan Academy uses videos created by instructors to teach concepts ranging from the Pythagorean Theorem to Stoichiometry to human heart anatomy. These videos serve as the Khan equivalent of in-person lectures, and students can access these videos as needed for explanations.

The lessons serve as SparkNotes for each respective area of study, focusing on quintessential topics such as Einstein’s theorems, how to take derivatives in calculus and how to understand the major points of cell division. Students driven off by the extreme price of college tuition will love the comfort of accessing a surfeit of information from their own home, free of charge. 


As with Khan Academy, I’m a big believer in Quizlet’s potential for future success.  Quizlet is a free study tool that uses virtual flash cards as means of studying, allowing users to make their own study sets or look up sets that have already been created by other users.

As long as another student has taken a course on the topic in question, students will be able to access study material for even uncommon subjects such as Spanish literature, LPN training or European geography. Classroom learning can be engaging, but using flash cards as a study tool is widely considered effective as well.

Students can learn concepts, then orally repeat and re-read them as many times as they want, an ideal strategy for learners discovering new topics at their own pace. Quizlet can be accessed via smart phones or computers, or even physically if study guides are printed.


People have been so busy classifying college as a necessity that they often forget about the many cheaper, more accessible programs available. College diplomas first gained their popularity from the masses of people who believed they were the only way to land their ideal jobs.

If people scale back from splurging on college tuition and start obtaining education by cheaper means, online methods will surely gain popularity too. Our capitalistic society views college tuition the same way we do clothing trends: when one person buys a popular new winter jacket, so do their friends, and then friends of friends do the same, forgetting that plenty of other practical, and perhaps cheaper, jackets are available for purchase as well. 

The more our friends, family and acquaintances invest in expensive tuition, the more they will influence others seeking education to do the same. Perhaps, however, online tools can break this cycle of supply and demand, and discourage investing in outrageously priced tuition. 

Ultimately, only students themselves will be able to determine if college tuition is suitable for their individual financial situations, their daily schedules and their intended career paths. Regardless, a conventional college education will likely become more of an option than a necessity once students begin to use new methods of learning.

With many opportunities already available as means of achieving training and education, students can and will soon feel more inclined to consider alternative educational resources. From there, they will be free to prove to the world how skilled they’ve become. 

Forecasted start year: 
2016 to 2020


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