Gas Prices Fueling Online Education

As the price of gas increases, enrollment in online classes around the country increases as well. Is this a cause-and-effect paradigm or just simply a coincidence?

From New Mexico to North Carolina and Pennsylvania to Florida, the summer sessions for online courses have increased dramatically from previous years. In the article $4-a-Gallon Gas Drives More Students to Online Courses by Jeffrey R. Young on The Chronicle of Higher Education’s web site, some say this is likely due to the increase in gasoline, while others believe online education has been on the rise for the past few years (see Chart 1.1) and the increase in gas prices (see Chart 1.2) is just a coincidence.

As gas prices continue to soar, students are seeking out ways to reduce the amount of gas they use on a regular basis. Some students schedule classes only on certain days of the week, while others schedule as little time in between classes as possible. Both strategies are part of an effort to limit the number of trips to and from campus during a day or typical school week.

In a recent article in the Las Cruces Sun-News, Crystal Moran, a student at New Mexico State University, stated that she scheduled all of her classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays to reduce trips to campus. Another way students are looking into reducing the amount of gas includes relocating to college towns to lessen commutes further. Some even opt for online classes to remove the commute completely.

Several schools around the country offering online courses have shown significant increases in summer enrollments. Youngs article states that the Tennessee Board of Regents, for instance, reports that summer enrollment in online courses is up 29 percent this summer over last year. At Brevard Community College, in Cocoa, Fla., summer enrollment in online courses is up nearly 25 percent. Harrisburg Area Community College, in Pennsylvania, saw its summer online enrollment rise 15 percent to 20 percent.

One possible reason summer courses are seeing increased online enrollments is that summer courses typically convene more frequently because of the shorter sessions, according to The Chronicle of Higher Educations article. With classes meeting four to five times a week, some students may opt for online offerings to limit the number of trips to get to class.

Some dont buy into the idea that gas prices are increasing online enrollments.

The rise was just too fast to make that kind of adjustment in their lives, said Robert M. Brown, Dean of the Division of Continual Learning at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, in The Chronicles story. Brown also noted that most online students at his school sign up for entire degree programs via distance education rather than individual courses and that its really too early to tell if gas is the driving factor.

Similarly, Youngs article states that University of Phoenix officials have not seen a dramatic increase in summer online enrollments. This could be due to the fact that UoP classes are designed to meet once a week for an extended period of time rather than meeting several times a week.

With either school of thought, the fact of the matter is that online education has increased as the price it takes to fill up a gas tank has increased, too. If the price of gas decreases and online enrollments still increase, maybe this trend is just a coincidence. Only time will tell, though. Until then, you be the judge as to whether or not the increase of gas has greatly affected online enrollments across the country.

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