Can Distance Learning be a Substitute for College

Distance learning can not only be a substitute for college, it’s very likely the future of college, for a number of reasons. 

Going to a four-year college and living in a dorm are luxuries that fewer and fewer people can afford.  Grants are drying up.  When my two older sons started college in the mid-nineties, they received sizeable grants.  By the time my youngest son graduated in 2008, he wasn’t getting any grants at all.  Besides that, the cost of college has been going up much faster than the rate of inflation for years.  According to, the average cost of college tuition went up 8.3% in 2011.  Going the traditional route means that students are saddled with huge loans that take years to pay off.  Even parents are burdened with parent loans that they have to keep paying off well into retirement.
Uncertainty in the economy and rapid changes in the workplace mean that more and more working adults are returning to school.  But a traditional four-year college doesn’t work for adults for a number of reasons.  The expense is very burdensome when you’re trying to provide for a growing family.  Also, it’s very difficult to work a class schedule around a work schedule.  I work in a community college, and it’s common for students to have to drop classes because their work schedule has changed.  Then there’s the time spent commuting.  Whether you live in a big city and have to go across town, or you live in a rural area and have a long drive, it’s possible to spend hours a day just driving.

The distance learning that colleges provide now is a great alternative that solves a lot of these problems.  College students can save a fortune in dorm costs.  They can live at home or in an inexpensive apartment with roommates during college.  The flexibility that distance learning provides means they can also work more hours during college.  With the same flexibility, they may even be able do their coursework at their own pace and graduate sooner, getting them into the workplace sooner.

Distance learning is also a great option for working adults with families, who have even more demands on their time than college students.  According to…/a/EducationSurv.htm, a Kaplan University survey found that 91% of American adults think a college education will make them more employable.  That’s a major consideration at any time, but especially in a down economy.  So there’s definitely a market for college courses among working adults, and distance learning makes it possible for even the busiest adults to finish college.  Besides the flexibility of scheduling and the time saved by not commuting, there’s another reason adults like distance learning.  Many adults have been out of school for years, and find a classroom distracting.  Sitting at home at the computer makes it much easier to concentrate on the class material.

People who want to improve their skills but don’t want to commit to college courses also have the option of taking continuing education classes online.  A very good site for this is, which offers a number of computer, business and education courses.  Continuing education courses are usually much cheaper than college courses, and usually also more practical and skill-oriented.

Because of all the advantages it offers, I think that distance learning will take more and more of the market share from traditional colleges in the future.  So distance learning will defintitely be a viable substitute for college.