Calculating the True Cost of an Online Degree

Determining costs is an important step while trying to choose between online and on-campus education, and even between different online programs.

Some prospective students will only account for direct costs like tuition and fees, but there are also hidden opportunity costs behind getting a degree. Opportunity costs include whatever students “give up” in the process of obtaining their degree. Will you have to cut your work hours to make time for coursework? Will you have to move to a new city if you choose an on-campus education?

For instance, quitting your job to pursue a traditional bachelor’s degree can have pretty high opportunity costs. Let’s say you leave a job that pays $35,000 per year for an on-campus program that costs $10,000 per year:

Tuition and Costs: $10,000* 4 years= $40,000

Lost Income: $35,000*4 years= $140,000

Total Loss: $180,000

*Assuming housing costs will stay constant

The margin between real costs and opportunity costs is formidable, and it is important to take these into account when making plans for the future. Beyond lost income, opportunity costs can include time with your family, moving costs, a lack of flexibility, and commute times. Though these numbers are hard to quantify, these factors will affect your satisfaction with your chosen program.

A significant benefit of an online education is the opportunity for reduced opportunity costs. Students may not have to give up their full time jobs, lose time with their family, or move, thanks to the flexibility of most online programs. Online education may actually provide immediate benefits to your career too. What you learn in class can be instantly applied to your job. Additionally, staying at a full-time job might make a student eligible for employer-based tuition reimbursement programs.

While online programs will still take time and monetary commitments, the opportunity costs can be significantly lower than the costs of an on-campus education.

Based on an article published by US News & World Report.