Online or on campus? Which is the best for your teen? I read a pretty shocking stat today over at Inside Higher Education. As community colleges all around the country “returned to normal” post-covid, community colleges reported that half or more than half of their entire catalog is still being offered ONLY online. What does this mean for your teen?
Online format generally refers to a course that can be accessed remotely from your device and does not require you to be physically present. Sometimes a college institutes a “synchronous” model that requires students to participate in live online lectures, but the overwhelming majority of online format simply means “asynchronous” which means you never have to check in at any special time. We also see some variations of a hybrid model, that may be any combination of the two.
“Although the shift to remote learning was precipitated by the pandemic, many community colleges, which disproportionately serve older adults and working people, are continuing to offer at least half of their courses online in response to growing student demand for more flexible options. Some colleges administrators are even proactively expanding and improving their online offerings or making their current offerings more accessible.”
I will add that in the Homeschooling for College Credit community, my annual parent survey consistently reports that our homeschool students are using dual enrollment (especially online) in record numbers and it continues to increase. This tracks with the many articles and reports that credit dual enrollment for ANY growth in enrollment experienced by colleges- so the high school students, not adults, are the ones pushing this forward. Growth of Dual Enrollment During Enrollment Decline
So what’s the relevance? Why should a HS4CC parent care about this? Because these are your students entering the workforce today, but leading it in 10 years! It is our high school population as the user of the product (yes, college is a product) and the online demand changes everything that happens after college. When students own their schedule, are used to autonomy, used to self-sufficiency, and and can direct their time as they see fit, it changes the landscape and expectations of how we work. This trend is going to support the growing trend of remote work, and we’ll see this fueling an entirely new generation reshaping our workforce and what it means to be place-bound for either college or work. Exciting stuff.
“The Colorado Community College system also saw online enrollment increase more than in-person enrollment. Compared to this time last year, online enrollment for the fall term is up by 8 to 10 percent, while in-person enrollment is up 5 or 6 percent across the system.”
“Before, you had a lot of these local high schools where kids felt like, ‘OK, if I want to go to community college, I kind of have to go to my local school, because I can’t really fully take a class online that’s across the city from me,’” he said. “Now … they never have to even step foot on the campus. So, it’s really worked where students have the power now to choose their own education, even on the community college level, kind of like they do with the four-year.”
Apples and Oranges
If you or your teens have experienced in-person and online courses, you know that they aren’t really the “same” experience. It’s a little like camping in a tent versus camping in an RV. Sure, technically you’re “camping” but can we agree that the experiences are very different? If you’ve never done either, you might not have a preference, but people who have done both, they are easily able to talk to you about the differences…. and there are differences!
At the risk of over-generalizing, I would encourage parents to let their teens try both formats. I do think there are pros and cons of each, but what is a “pro” with one of your kids might be a “con” for another. As an example, in an online course, you need decent computer skills. You have to type well. You need to upload and download files with ease. You should also feel comfortable constantly acquiring new technology skills. If learning to use Excel or create an online slideshow strikes fear in your teen’s heart, that will create a significant barrier to their success in an online class. Those critical skills (either existing or acquired during class) are all part of their ability to earn a passing grade, and have little to do with their mastery of the subject.
Elephant in the Room
Quizlet, ChatGPT, HyperWrite, Grammarly, PurpleMath, Google…. the tech tools that are now available to enhance our academic success can backfire. Do students cheat online? Yes. Do students cheat on campus? Yes, but it’s harder to get away with on campus. In a world where these tools are now free apps on every device, a homeschool parent should become familiar with what they are and how to use them appropriately. When I was a kid, our biggest controversy was whether or not we could use a calculator. “But what about when you don’t have that calculator? How will you divide that number?” is a reasonable objection, but are we really in a world where a calculation is needed but no calculators are available? Are we living in a world where the pride of being able to do long hand division trumps accuracy? I get it, I’m kicking and screaming right there with you. But it’s changing, and we aren’t going back.
My advice is to try both online and on-campus classes before making a decision for their post high school education. Trying both while being homeschooled allows students to explore diverse learning environments, all while catering to their different learning styles and preferences. This firsthand experience now enables you to help your teen make an informed choice later that aligns best with their academic needs and personal circumstances.
I want to close with a brief personal experience. Son #1 took his first in-person class several years after high school when he went to train as an automotive tech, he much prefers in-person. Son #2 took all of his courses online and has never taken a course in person (earned an AS and BS online). He strongly prefers online! Son #3 did a self paced AS degree in high school and decided to do hs BS in person, but his current program is only available as “live online” synchronous learning but has decided he loves it. Son #4 did a blend of about 50/50 for his welding degree (academics online, welding in person). The takeaway here is that there are so many differences between each of us, our goals, our preferences, our majors, that there is no “one size fits all” that works for everyone. HS4CC is a great time to try out these options, and workout a plan that is going to bring your teen over their finish line.