Students question online tuition rates

Rahul Vendkat, Washburn Review

This article is the first of two about higher tuition rates for online education at Washburn.  This week, the Review will examine students’ perspectives.  The second article, in an upcoming issue of the Review, will discuss the administration and faculty’s take on the issue.

Washburn students who take online courses seem to have it easy.  They can pour themselves a morning joe, fire up their computers and work from home in their shorts and flip flops.

Most universities charge a higher tuition for this study-at-home privilege, and Washburn is no exception.  Students taking online courses here pay an extra $64 per credit hour, which can add up to nearly $200 for a typical three-hour course.

Some Washburn students are fine with the higher tuition.  They see it as a convenience fee for the flexibility of online learning. Other students see it as a penalty for taking inferior online courses.

Joe Spinelli, a senior  criminal justice major, is part of the first group.  As a self-starter, he prefers the autonomy allowed by online education.

“It really depends on the class,” said Spinelli.  “A lot of it is self-motivation, because you’re not with other people.  It’s you sitting with a laptop and reading the material, and you go from there.  I actually like it that way, because I can do work on my own time.”

Students who commute long distances to Washburn feel that the online premium pays for itself.  For Kris Antonetti, a senior computer science major, both his job schedule and the commute to Washburn have shaped his decision to take courses online.

“I actually didn’t notice until last semester that there was a rate difference,” said Antonetti.  “I was a little surprised, but not upset.  Since I live in Lawrence, the amount of classes I can take where I don’t actually have to drive to Topeka are worth it in terms of the cost of gas I save that it takes me to drive back and forth.  The convenience fee kind of pays for itself in the time you can be at work, in the time that you could be devoting to other tasks, and in other parts of your life.”

Advocating for the other viewpoint, some students prefer traditional courses.  For these students  the online premium simply isn’t worth the convenience.  They prefer the live, in-person interaction offered by traditional courses.

Ryan Cordts, a senior communications major, feels he gets more value for his money from in-person courses.  He prefers not to take online courses when he has an option.  

“I think the difference [in tuition rates] is definitely an added factor in why I don’t like to take online courses,” said Cordts. “I get a much better understanding attending class and learning firsthand from the teacher.  Not only that, but I like when the teacher sees me in class and knows that I’m attending and trying harder.”

Lindsay Taylor, a senior computer science major, concurs.  

“To me, the added charge isn’t worth it,” said Taylor. “I think you get much more out of an in-class course.  But sometimes for convenience sake I have to take online courses.”

Chris Tollefson earned his bachelors (‘06) and masters (‘12) degrees from Washburn in nursing.  Tollefson feels his online courses imposed an extra cost and offered less value.

“In my graduate nursing program, some of the courses were offered only online.  So you were forced into paying that higher cost,”  said Tollefson.  “When I attended on-campus courses to listen to lectures, I got more interaction, more questions answered and quicker feedback.”

For Roxy Johanning, a masters nursing student who graduates in December, online courses have saved her time and gas money otherwise required for commuting.  At the same time, some of her nursing courses were listed as online in the course schedule but in fact required a few visits to campus during the semester.

“To me, that came as a surprise,” said Johanning.  “It was a hardship for me, because I was working full time and I was attending school full time, so it required asking off from work.  Commuting to campus required more than 45 minutes of driving time each way, eliminating the savings I had expected. If the core requisite courses had been listed as hybrid at a cost somewhere between the traditional on-campus and online classes, I would have known what to expect.”

Tollefson felt he paid more and missed out on the Washburn experience which he expected when he chose to attend Washburn.

“I chose Washburn over KU for the small class size and the one-on-one interactions,” said Tollefson. “I believed that if  I had difficulty in an area, I could access my professor.  But some of my online courses at Washburn were very difficult, particularly courses involving numbers and informatics.  It was okay as long as the instructors contributed to the discussion. When the instructors didn’t, I felt I was paying more money to get an online chatroom which lacked any direction.”