Monday, March 16, 2009

Online Education Could Help More Students Make it to Class + Comment March 16, 2009

Online Education Could Help More Students Make it to Class

Kimberly N. Chase

by Kimberly N. Chase
- USA -

Photograph by flickr user Misterteacher used under Creative Commons licenses.
In an age of ever-busier schedules, escalating costs and dwindling funding for public education, the image of the full-time college student, loafing in libraries and flipping through volumes of political theory in campus cafés, is less a plan than a distant dream for many of California's young people. Lucky young intellectuals can still be spotted in droves on the Berkeley and Stanford campuses, sporting fashionable clothes or long, flowing hair and modern hippie attire, but most of the state's less privileged will never live those idyllic four years of limbo between adolescence and adult life.

That's because many young people are thrown into the water before they learn to swim. It might be easier to look the other way, but it's our responsibility as a state to make sure that they have a chance to make their way to a satisfying life.

Many Californians are facing the challenge of educating themselves when they already have families and full-time jobs, and the stark reality is that it isn't so easy to reach graduation day when you are just as concerned with your latest assignment at work or your 10 year-old getting his homework done.

The situation is tough, but technology may come to the rescue. As students struggle to pay tuition and living expenses at the same time, many could benefit from online classes. This model allows participants to complete readings, assignments and even class discussions from home. They can log in and chat with teachers and other students, sometimes getting more in-depth attention from professors than they would in a traditional class. Students can participate at their convenience and don't need to invest time or money in travel to university locations.

But it's not as if nothing is lost – the lack of personal connection with online education is significant. Anyone who has been to a traditional college knows that a large part of the experience revolves around personal contact with professors and other students. There are office hours, where faculty and teaching assistants can address questions and help with problem concepts. There are random conversations with other students before and after class, and chats with friends that last until the wee hours, where leisure mixes with ideas and inspiration. There are nights out on the town and long days in the library. A generation of time-crunched students who choose to pursue an education online won't experience those and other aspects of college life.

Of course it's regretable to miss out on these peripheral experiences, but not when the alternative is nothing at all.

Self-motivated students who don't have the time or the money for a traditional college experience shouldn't be denied the opportunity to advance professionally and personally in the manner that only higher education can provide. Those who live too far from a university, or the one that has the program that interests them, could also be well-served by an Internet-based curriculum. And, international students often join the mix from far-off shores, creating an even more diverse crowd than one might find on campus.

Still, as more students turn to online classes, the digital divide will become even more apparent. Many who have their own families and don't have time to travel back and forth to campus will benefit, but those who struggle financially may not.

According to a 2008 study by the Public Policy Institute of California, Latinos are the least likely to have Internet access at home. Only 48% have computers at home, compared with 79% of African-Americans, 84% of Asians and 86% of whites. The gap is also along economic lines – only half of households with an income of less than $40,000 have home computers, and just 40% have Internet access.

Fortunately, there are plenty of other ways to help time-starved, hardworking parents get an education. Financial aid would smooth their way, but on-campus childcare and healthcare through the university would also be a huge draw. The state itself would benefit more than the individual recipients of this kind of aid, with a more educated, innovative, self-sufficient and productive population.

Nearly everyone wants to improve his or her lot in life, and that's why higher education shouldn't be considered a privilege in California. There are plenty of students ready to dive in and hit the books if only given the chance.

Sponsored by University of Phoenix.
Become part of the solution to California's looming workforce shortage. Think Ahead.

Kimberly's article is part of a month-long series on education in California,
published in partnership with the University of Phoenix and our publishing platform Six Apart. The WIP's Executive Editor Katharine Daniels is also participating.
Be sure to look for both of their articles, as features and Talk blogs each Monday in March. - Ed.

About the Author
Kimberly N. Chase is a freelance journalist specializing in environmental features for print and television. She graduated in 2005 from Stanford's MA program in journalism and worked as a crime reporter in California before spending two years in Mexico City. She is now enjoying working on some of the same issues stateside.
Comment: Education is certainly an equalizer in today's high-tech society and one's level of quality education usually separates winners from losers in the long run. Being able to have regular Internet Access is a key component of leveling the playing or educational field, especially for poor people who cannot financially afford a regular college education. Many times poor folks have a hard time merely keeping the electricity going and the kitchen lights on!

Plus, online education could help fill the educational gaps for seniors who are older and homebound without goals and objectives in their lives.

All of us are born with natural talents and different aptitudes, but good exposure to higher education with the capacity to obtain a college degree is good for all of us. Education is at the heart of a successful life and we should remember that knowledge is the food of the soul. Let us feed our souls well!

Education for Liberation! Join Up!
Peter S. Lopez aka: Peta

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