October 11th, 2014
By Ramin Farahmandpur
Some believe online education is the future of public higher education. But is it? As Oregon colleges and universities brace themselves for the next wave of budget cuts, a growing number are betting that online courses will increase enrollments and lower costs.
The passage of two bills by the 2013 Legislature paved the way for the Higher Education Coordinating Commission to expand online programs, supposedly to reach the state's degree-attainment goals.
House Bill 4018 allows Oregon to join the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA). This compact permits out-of-state students to pay in-state tuition for online courses offered by universities in another member state.
House Bill 4059 allows Oregon to partner with Western Governors University, a private nonprofit online university with about 47,000 students. This institution, which caters to adult "nontraditional" students, has the lowest graduation rate in the country, according to a 2012 CBS Money Watch report.
University and college administrators generally do not focus on quality concerns, however. They see opportunity to cut costs, offer a range of courses and bring in new enrollees that their brick-and-mortar classrooms would not. They claim that online education better serves nontraditional and first-generation college students, most of whom are working adults with families and children.