Online Education Programs Gain Steam as College Becomes More Expensive

For those wanting to advance their careers or earn a degree, traditional college programs are becoming more and more unaffordable. Despite career advancement opportunities and pay increases associated with higher education, many people have found that the cost of a college education is simply impossible to justify. 

In just 20 years, the cost of attending college has more than doubled. The average tuition for private universities has reached a staggering $44,433. These numbers become even more frustrating when you consider that the average salary in the same time frame rose by just over 20% and the cost of housing has seen a 106% increase. 

It’s not all bad news though. People who are willing to think outside the box and try alternative education options are able to advance their careers and improve their lives without drowning in student debt. Online education programs are not only more cost-effective, they allow students to live in less expensive areas and modify their school schedule to allow for more working hours. 

With advancements in technology, there are many programs that can now be done completely online. Thanks to video conferencing, online simulations, and even virtual reality, options ranging from certificate programs to graduate degrees can be finished without ever stepping foot inside a classroom.  

Online internships also provide valuable hands-on experience, enhancing the learning process and improving employability.

The Cost of College Has Been Outpacing Inflation

While an increase in tuition costs over the years should be expected, the cost of education is outpacing inflation by a large margin. While college costs have doubled over the last 20 years, the inflation rate has been about 50%. Salary increases in the same time frame have seen the slowest increase, just under 24%.  

To overcome the challenges of rising tuition, inflation, and housing costs, students and employees are forced to be creative and find more cost-efficient ways to advance their education and improve their lives. 

New Technology Allowing for More Effective Online Learning

While some old-school students may struggle to accept online learning as an effective training tool, new technology makes online learning at least as effective as in-person instruction. 

With live video-conference options, real-time computer feedback on quizzes and exams, interactive learning like simulations and games, and even virtual reality, online learning can provide individualized experiences and opportunities that in-person classrooms cannot. 

For example, some healthcare programs have been using computer simulations and are incorporating virtual reality programs to allow providers to practice making real-time life-or-death decisions without risking harm to a patient. This also allows students to go back and repeat simulations or slow things down if they are struggling to grasp a particular skill or concept. 

The instant feedback provided during online learning games or quizzes is also a valuable learning tool that can speed up the learning process and improve retention. Correcting a student the moment that they make a mistake helps keep them focused on the topic and understand where they went wrong. 

Online Programs Allow for a More Affordable Learning Experience

Online programs are less expensive for a variety of reasons. Primarily, when you eliminate the cost of purchasing and maintaining a campus, overhead for educational programs decreases significantly. 

In addition, instructors can sometimes take on more students in an online learning environment, and some self-directed courses require very little extra teacher work at all. 

Online Degree Programs

Online degree programs can offer huge discounts on tuition, especially if you are self-motivated. Some online schools like Western Governors University charge flat rate tuition, meaning that if you are able to complete coursework quickly, you pay less tuition. These programs are risky if you are a procrastinator, but can be beneficial for an organized self-starter. 

Even online degree programs with tuition similar to in-person programs can help you save money by eliminating transportation costs, parking, and facility fees while allowing you to dictate your own schedule and maintain part-time or full-time employment throughout school.  

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

Massive Open Online Courses offer free programs that allow anyone to enroll. While the free do not result in an official degree or certification, completing one of these courses can still teach you skills to advance your career and look great on a resume. 

You can pay for MOOCs that include graded assignments and exams and result in an official certificate. Courses that result in an official certificate usually cost between $200-$400.  

MOOC courses include classes in architecture, art, biology, chemistry, communication, computer science, design, teacher training, engineering, math, philosophy, music, and so much more. 

Online Certification Programs

Online certification programs are a great alternative to in-person technical programs or trade schools. Certificate programs can help someone start a career as a medical assistant, pharmacy technician, HVAC technician, phlebotomist, bookkeeper, and more. 

Most online certificate programs are much less expensive than in-person courses and many are self-paced. Newer programs are even offering job placement assistance like this online medical assistant program from Stepful.

While some of the career choices mentioned do not always require a certificate, certified employees are more likely to be paid a higher salary and be offered advancement opportunities. 


If someone is interested in starting a career in Information Technology (IT) like coding, cybersecurity, or programming, an online boot camp might be a good fit. These programs are typically completed in 8 to 12 weeks of full-time study and cost between $5,000 and $30,000. 

While these programs do not result in a degree, more and more employers are seeing the value of a bootcamp education and are happy to hire candidates who have completed an online boot camp. 

Micro-Credential Programs

Micro-credential programs are a good fit for people who already have a degree, certificate, or an established career. These programs offer very specialized training and can help make people more valuable within a specific group. 

Micro-credential programs offer classes in things like business email, sustainable waste management, and computer mathematics. Adding a few micro-credentials to your resume may just be what someone needs to earn a promotion or raise.