Is Mt. Hood Communiity College lying to us about the costs of online courses?
Mount Hood Community College may be lying to its students and public. At least, to me, there is an unexplained mystery: why do online courses cost more and why should those increased costs be going up?
From the Oregonian article "Mt. Hood Community College raising tuition and fees" by quinton Smith (here):
Mt. Hood Community College students registering for summer or fall classes will need to dig deeper into their wallets. The college is raising tuition and student fees.
The changes took effect May 11 with the first day of registration for summer term.
The increases are part of a three-pronged attempt by the college to find new revenue or make cuts totaling $6.1 million to balance its 2012-13 general fund budget of $68 million.
To raise $2.3 million, the MHCC board voted to raise in-state tuition by $5 per credit hour, from $84 to $89. It replaced a $25 per term parking fee paid by some students with a $35 access fee for all students, increased a service fee from $30 to $40 and raised an online course fee from $40 to $55. Students already pay an activity fee of $3 per credit hour and an energy fee of $4.75 per credit hour.....
In MHCC budget document (here), on page iv, there is the only explanation of the online course fee increase I could find. It says; “Distance Learning fee increase of $15 to cover administrative costs.” “Distance Learning,” I think, is just another way of saying online courses
So the rationale is “to cover administrative costs?” Here is where I think they may be lying or, at least, there is a mystery that needs further explanation. What kind of “administrative costs” do online course have that other kinds of courses do not have. I cannot think of anything significant. I do not think additional online server capacity is that expensive. I challenge MHCC to provide comparison cost accountings of an online course versus a conventional course.
Online course, to the contrary, should cost less to provide and those reduced cost should be passed on in reduced, not higher, tuition. Online courses do not required the costs of classrooms and other facilities.
This is not a trivial issue. If community colleges were private businesses, their business models would be their own concerns. But community colleges are tax supported institutions. We expect them to be operated efficiently. If online classes are less costly to provide than conventional classes, we, the public, would expect to see a shift, where appropriate, to the less costly. By keeping the tuition and fee costs higher, community colleges are giving financial incentives for students to take the more costly (to the institution) form of education and requiring the tax paying public to pay more than necessary.
Further, online course are greener and more sustainable. In not requiring students to travel for classes, they reduce carbon emissions.
MHCC is not alone in charging more tuition for an online course. I sampled five other Oregon community colleges. Four out of five charged more. Portland Community College charges a $20 “Distance Learning Fee” per online course (here). Clackamas Community College charges “a $35 Distance Learning fee per course” (here). Rogue Community College charges a “Distance Learning fee: $10 per credit, per class up to 4 credits” (here). Lane Community College says “Tuition and fees are charged at the same rate as on-campus courses” (here).
At MHCC, a student taking five courses of three credits each would pay $275 per term more (above the per credit tuition) for taking those courses online. For three terms that would be $825, for four terms (a calendar year) that would be $1,110.
So, MHCC, give us the comparison cost accountings!