Summer sessions can often be advantageous to students of all backgrounds. They allow students to complete more credits and even graduate sooner if they desire. Taking classes over the summer can even help students complete a more robust course of study with double majors and minors. Not all summer classes, however, are created equally. While the University offers two different types of courses — both in-person and online — their prices remain identical. Online classes should not cost the same amount as in-person classes. Despite being able to deliver the same amount of information in the same amount of time, the experiences of these two types of courses could not be further from one another — prices should reflect those disparities.
On the Student Information System, classes that are offered in the various summer sessions are listed with their mode of instruction. Sometimes, however, the modality changes. In my case, I signed up for an in-person class in the second summer session. A week after I enrolled and paid tuition, I got an email from the registrar stating that my class had switched from in-person instruction to a web-based course. Since online courses are not any cheaper than in-person classes, I was forced to pay the same amount of money for a less effective educational experience.
Let me be clear — virtual classes have several benefits. Namely, they are generally more accessible and provide a greater degree of flexibility to students. Summer classes, in general, make it easier for students to double major or expand their areas of study by taking engaging classes that they would not have otherwise had the opportunity to take. Online classes can be especially useful because they create learning opportunities for working students or those who cannot live near Grounds in the summer to further their education. In fact, there has been an increase in students who enroll in online summer classes — both at universities and community colleges. Students do recognize and take advantage of the benefits of virtual classes.
Even still, it would be naive to say virtual classes and in-person classes are of the same caliber. In-person classes offer hands-on learning opportunities and easier interactions with one’s peers, better interpersonal development and an environment that is typically less distracting than taking class online at home. In short, in-person classes create a better learning environment than virtual classes — studies have found online classes often warrant lower grades and produce worse performances than in-person classes. The bottom line is that while virtual classes are convenient, they are not as useful or fulfilling as in-person classes. Why, then, is the price the same?
While the pay structure of classes may be built on something other than quality of the instruction offered — perhaps the labor of the professor or the amount of resources required to take the class — the efficacy of how course content is delivered must be the decisive factor in pricing courses. To be taught effectively is the very reason students sign up for classes with instructors in the first place.
It is worth noting, though, that professors themselves are not to blame for the drop in educational quality that is inherent in online learning environments. As such, educators should not be forced to shoulder the cost of cheaper online courses. If the cost of summer courses directly contributes to the rate at which professors are compensated, then the University cannot simply lower the cost of courses — it must also subsidize the difference to ensure that faculty do not walk away with less in their pocket.
Additionally, making virtual summer courses cheaper than in-person summer courses would not only benefit students by allowing them to seize more opportunities — it would also benefit the University. Cheaper online courses provide an incentive for students to utilize University-run courses instead of outsourcing to community colleges, even if they live away from Grounds. The University is missing out on an advantageous opportunity. If more and more students are rushing to fill their summers with courses, why would the University not want to make its courses a more appealing option to all of their students?
It does not make sense — nor is it fair — that in-person and virtual classes are priced the same, despite fundamental differences in educational quality. Virtual classes are useful, but they are not as useful — nor, in my experience, as enjoyable — as in-person classes. The community and camaraderie foundational to the educational experience is diminished when classes move online, so the tuition we pay for these courses should also decrease.
Riley Lorgus is an Opinion Columnist who writes about Administration and University life for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at email@example.com.