Several hundred incoming Georgia Tech students made history this spring as the first cohort in the institution’s online master’s program in computer science. While today it is hardly noteworthy that a prestigious university like Georgia Tech is offering a graduate degree online, the university’s decision to price it more than 80 percent less than the on-campus option is truly groundbreaking. At $6,600, the online program is one-sixth the cost of the on-campus one, a fact that higher education leaders should be examining closely.
Georgia Tech’s decision is indeed significant, given that more than 60 percent of large public U.S. universities typically charge online students a campus-equivalent tuition rate, while 36 percent command a premium, according to a 2013 report from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and the Learning House. Not only is Georgia Tech challenging the status quo in online tuition pricing, but it is also shedding new light on the true cost of serving online students.
These days, two out of three students attending on-campus programs receive some form of generous subsidy or discount, while their online counterparts, generally ineligible for such assistance, foot the full sticker price even though they do not benefit from all the amenities of the revered campus life, do not take up parking spaces, inflict wear and tear on facilities, or take up as much instructor time. Instead of embracing these online learners who produce considerable incremental revenue for institutions, colleges and universities are penalizing them, which has troubling implications not only for students’ bank accounts, but also for universities’ own vaunted views of fairness. By introducing e-tuition, which is appropriately lower than the on-campus price tag, universities could easily capitalize on the scale, brand extension, and new revenue synonymous with online learning while maintaining far more equitable pricing for online students. <Read more.>