From the perspective of a teacher who has taught both online and conventional college-level courses, I can tell you that there is no substitute for college. This is not to say that there aren’t some really amazing programs out there available to distance learners but the education is of a somewhat different kind.
College education is not only about reading your assignments, doing your homework, and taking your tests. A college experience is so much more. Lectures and class discussions create a really productive and unique social experience you simply cannot build into an online class. The camaraderie created by being a part of an actual, not a virtual class, on an actual, not a virtual, campus makes for great learning and often fond recollections.
Online courses place most of the emphasis on independent study, which not everyone is able to do well. In fact, I find that most of my college students benefit from both the lectures and the textbook (which some often find confusing) and tend to do poorly when they miss several key lectures.
Distance students work in isolation. Though they are part of a cyber community, we, as social beings, need to be able to interact with our peers actually as well as virtually. Because of this disconnect, many students feel daunted and lose their way.
Another important thing to remember is that the instructor often has no way of telling whether the student is cheating. In fact, there is a much higher risk of cheating on distance courses than conventional college courses.
Does this mean that there is no place for distance learning? Of course not. But the emphasis has to be on “place” here. Online courses are wonderful for teaching a craft or a profession, a specialized education, or, should I say, a vocation. Also, distance learning works very well for disciplines that rely very heavily on independent study by the student. But a college education is a lot more well rounded. It includes humanities, arts, social sciences, music, etc. And for those subjects to be given any chance at all to hit home, they must be taught in a physical space conducive to collaborative learning.