Tear Down These Walls: The New Wave of Online Education

By Beth Dumbauld

There are many obstacles that can prevent a student from starting, and ultimately finishing, a college education in a traditional college setting. Some of these obstacles include: the reality of tuition and other college-related costs, scheduling challenges, academic preparedness issues, as well as basic issues of geography, including distance from a school’s campus or even the perceived availability of classes a student would like to pursue. As a result, many students step off the higher education path before they really have had a chance to gain traction on their college journey. The same goes for an adult learner who knows that where they want to be career-wise requires further education, yet whose ability and/or desire to acquire that education through traditional means no longer makes sense.

Why does this matter?

We’re in a time in the U.S. when receiving an education beyond high school, whether a 2-year associates, 4-year bachelors, or more specific technical certifications, has become critical for all in our society. For workers who don’t want to be left behind with regards to job opportunities, a college education can make the difference between a living wage and a drop in lifestyle. With employers of today and tomorrow, there is a growing need for employees with skills and advanced training, many of which are acquired through a college education.

In fact, according to a recent study by The Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, the U.S. economy will create some 47 million job openings over the 10-year period ending in 2018. Nearly two-thirds of these jobs, according to the Center, will require that workers have at least some post-secondary education. This means, as time moves on, applicants with no more than a high school degree will fill just 36 percent of the job openings, or just half the percentage of jobs they held in the early 1970s.1

Furthermore, according to a study by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, many of those with no more than a high-school degree have fallen out of the middle class, even as those who have been to college, and especially those with bachelors and advanced degrees, have moved up. Further emphasizing the difference is the lifetime earnings gap between those with a high school education and those with a college degree: it’s now estimated to be nearly $1 million. In 2008, median earnings of workers with bachelor’s degrees were 65 percent higher than those of high school graduates ($55,700 vs. $33,800). Similarly, workers with associate’s degrees earned 73 percent more than those who had not completed high school ($42,000 vs. $24,300).2

1 Harvard Graduate School of Education, Pathways to Prosperity: Meeting the Challenge of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st Century, 2/2011, p.2