Help Guide the Conversation about the Price and Cost of Distance Courses

We need your help in providing data – WCET is currently conducting a survey on the price and cost of distance education. But before we get to the survey completion plea, some background…

How Are You Saving Money Using Technology?

In the ancient days of distance education, back before online courses, I ran a two-way video network that served students across the wide expanses of North Dakota. Each year, I would make the rounds of the colleges to assess educational, technical and support needs across the state.

A group of faculty at a rural university asked for an audience with me. After my talk, one eager faculty person immediately asked, “How will you save money using this technology?”

To which I replied that my video network’s mission was not to save money for the University System. Our goal was to expand access across the state and this would actually cost us money.

The faculty person was stunned for a bit. He paused and thought. Since faculty usually don’t scratch their heads, you could see him doing so in his mind. Then he asked, “Yes, but how will this save money?”


That was more than two decades ago. The same preconception arose in an Inside Higher Ed article last week that cited a study that concluded that “prospective students lack interest in online learning.” They cite online learning as a cost-saving tool, but they give no reference.

We Need Better Information on the Price and Cost of Distance Education

balanced scales of justice with Cost and Price in the scalesIn talking to legislators, administrators, faculty, students, and the public in general, we need better information about what we charge students (the “price”) for distance education courses. We also need to know more about how much it costs the institution to create the course (the “cost”).

Maybe distance courses should be priced lower than face-to-face courses….maybe not. In our previous work on this issue, we found that most institutions charged a higher price. However, there were examples of lower priced programs, but the institution had to be intentional in doing so.

Burck Smith, CEO, StraighterLine raises this question often: “In light of massive investments in technology in higher education and K-12, why have prices risen faster than inflation and student outcomes declined? If a technology is being used appropriately, it should result in lower prices, better outcomes or both. What’s different about education?”

Absent data and information, we allow external stakeholders to set the parameters of the conversation.

We Need Your Help in Providing Your Experiences…Take Our Survey

We are currently conducting a survey on the price and cost of distance education. The survey was sent to the official representative of every WCET member institution and to distance education leaders at other institutions.

We would like to receive just one response per institution. We made allowances in the survey for institutions that have multiple price and cost parameters based on the college, department, or program. If you are a completely online institution, the survey is really short. We will share the results of our survey with you, our members.  As well as using the data to fuel our work in advocating for you, our members.

To request a survey link, contact Rosa Calabrese, WCET’s Coordinator of Digital and Product Services.

Thank you,



Photo of Russ Poulin with baseball bat

Ready for baseball and regulatory season.

Russ Poulin
Director, Policy and Analysis


  1. WCETblog
    Posted February 26, 2016 at 8:56 am | Permalink | Reply

    Hi Evan,
    The poll Russ was referencing is “Prospective Students Lack Interest in Online Learning” published by ACT and Art & Science Group, LLC in February 2016. It can be found here: The link is correct on the words “cited a study”.
    Have a great day,

  2. Smith, Evan S.
    Posted February 23, 2016 at 10:23 am | Permalink | Reply

    Under “Arrgh,” isn’t the reference in this link for StudentPoll: ?

    Evan Smith, U. Missouri

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