The Guidance Counselor's Guide to Online Learning

When you look at everything that you have to do as a guidance counselor, it is not surprising that you might not be completely up-to-date about online college and online college courses. You might even have reactions like these when the topic of online learning comes up...

  • “I don’t see what role online learning plays in my world. My job is to guide kids to traditional colleges and universities – places with lectures, laboratories, classrooms and dorms.”
  • “Isn’t distance learning just for people who are working – who need to take courses at night? Why do I have to know about it?”

But the fact is, guidance counselors do need to know about distance learning – or they will soon – for some very compelling reasons...

  • Economic conditions are triggering dramatic growth in online learning. In the current climate, more American families are seeking lower-cost ways to educate their children. That’s why the number of applications to state universities has risen so dramatically from coast to coast. More students and their families are already asking questions about lower-cost online colleges and universities as they make their educational plans – and they will be looking to you to provide the answers.
  • Established institutions of higher learning are turning to computerized learning to deliver instruction to more students at lower cost. As a guidance counselor, you need to be aware of this trend. What kind of instruction awaits the students you are sending to college today?
  • Resistance to online learning is fading fast. According to the United States Distance Learning Association, “...once educators understand the power and effectiveness of online learning - whether it is via the web or videoconference - concerns and misconceptions disappear.” And U.S. News recently termed the rate of growth in distance learning “Meteoric.”
  • Online college is growing in response to widespread demographic and lifestyle changes. The days are long gone when nearly all students entered college at age 18. Today they are starting college later in life – often when they are parenting, in the military, or working. For these students, online college can be the only option that makes sense.
  • The surging costs of college are making distance learning more attractive. In years past, adult learners enrolled in night classes at community colleges and other institutions. Today, they are increasingly turning to computer-based learning.

What Kinds of Online Institutions Are There?

In the next few years, your students will be asking you more questions about online learning. What options do they have? Here’s a review:

For-profit online colleges and universities. You already know these institutions by name – they advertise aggressively on the internet, on television, and even on roadside billboards. Truth be told, many of them do not offer a tremendous financial advantage to recent high school graduates, because they are about as expensive as traditional brick-and-mortar colleges. Note too that some of these universities have recently come under fire – and government scrutiny – for the practice of encouraging too many of their students to take government-funded loans. (Apparently part of the business model for some of for-profit online universities is to qualify students for government loans as a way to boost enrollment and profits.)

But some for-profits – such as Kaplan University, Capella University and DeVry University – adhere to excellent ethical policies and let students earn college degrees at reasonable cost. But proceed with care, since some for-profit universities do not offer great cost savings when compared to regular colleges.

Regular colleges and universities that have active online learning programs. As noted earlier in this briefing, a growing number of established universities now deliver a significant part of their instruction online. But there is another trend you should know about too: A growing number of established colleges and universities are launching dedicated online degree programs, alongside their regular classroom programs, that let students complete part or all of their coursework online. Recent entries in this category include: American Intercontinental University, Ashford University, Assumption College, Charter Oak State College, Colorado State, Excelsior College, Florida Gateway College, Fort Hates State University, Granite State College, La Salle University, Potomac College, The University of Akron, Thomas Edison State College, Thompson Rivers University and Western Governors University. These established institutions can be excellent choices for students who need to earn money at the conclusion of their high school years, or who will enter the military and pursue college work at the same time.

StraighterLine, a new kind of online institution, offers creditworthy college courses at exceptionally low cost. Not a college, StraighterLine.com has quickly emerged as a leading provider of online college instruction. For a monthly enrollment fee of $99, students can take courses for only $39 each – or complete a year’s worth of college courses for as little as $999. Students can then transfer the credits they earn to hundreds of American college through the American Council on Education Credit. This pricing structure makes starting college possible for a growing number of students who lack the financial resources to enroll in traditional colleges immediately after high school.

Which Students Should You Tell about Online Education?

Like many American guidance counselors, you are probably guiding a large number of students through the college-selection process. Which of them should you tell about online education?

Here are some of the students who will benefit the most from your guidance in this area:

Students who have not been accepted by the colleges they really wanted to attend. Taking courses online, or enrolling in an online institution, can bridge the gap until such students reapply to colleges again after a year or two.

Students who have financial needs, or who have not been able to obtain the financial assistance they need to attend college. In the current economic climate, such students are a growing part of the American high school population. For them, the right kind of online learning can provide a cost-effective alternative to regular colleges.

Students who may be entering the military after high school. You doubtless have some of these students in your group of counselees. Some of them might not be aware that they can pursue college learning while they are in the service – not afterwards. They'd probably like to know about this option.

Students who need to work after high school. Not all families have the resources to send their children to high-cost American colleges. They can benefit by knowing about the cost-saving benefits of online learning.

Students who are undecided about whether they are ready for college study. The right kind of online instruction – such as the courses offered at StraighterLine – lets your students try out the college experience to see whether post-secondary education should be part of their long-term plans.

In summary . . .

Your job has changed. As an American guidance counselor, part of your job is now to counsel students about the opportunities that online education can offer them. Strive to get ahead of the curve in this important area – it will help you guide your students more effectively and help them access the higher learning they desire.