Can Online Education Benefit Underserved Populations?

Having a college degree can open many doors that are otherwise completely closed. There are countless stories of young adults from underserved communities who were the first in their family to go to college and the opportunities that opened up to them. Online colleges are increasingly a great way for that to happen, especially for students who may have other obligations, either with work or family.

But even with the great availability of online colleges, people in underserved communities may still not have access to them. Here are some things that could be changed to make that more of an option.

Full Internet Access

In some communities, the biggest barrier to accessing an online degree program is simply the “online” part of the process. Even in modern cities like Los Angeles as many as one in four households with school-aged students don’t have access to a reliable internet connection or one with enough bandwidth for the video requirements that online degree programs often require.

There are a number of options toward rectifying this. Some cities have invested in their internet infrastructure, going so far as to provide fiber-optic internet connections to the entire community at no cost. While investments of this magnitude may not be an option for all cities, especially those as large as Los Angeles, tech companies have in many cases offered to invest heavily in those infrastructure projects.

The first step to making online degree programs more accessible is grassroots lobbying efforts to state and city officials to make invests in the city’s internet infrastructure, or accept help from tech companies offering to help with those investments.

Federal Aid & Scholarships

Currently, many Federal Aid programs are available to many, but not all accredited online universities. In order for degree programs to be fully accessible, they need to be eligible for federal funding. Similar grassroots lobbying efforts should be enacted to expand the eligibility of federal funds to online schools.

Additionally, most scholarships currently available for degrees are targeted at “traditional” students, face to face students. We should encourage donations from the businesses and charities that fund these scholarships to be directed towards students wishing to enroll in online degree programs, specifically. In doing so, there would be a far better return on investment, both in terms of the sheer number of people helped by an equivalent amount of money, but also the type of person that would benefit from those donations. 

 Online degree programs are specifically beneficial to people who may not have the time and other resources to attend “traditional” in-person classes and having federal funds and scholarships fully available to help those people would be an excellent use of funds. It should be stressed, again, that with the affordability of online degrees it would in fact allow a greater number of students to be helped for the same amount of money.

Why Nonprofit Online Degrees are Best

Many underserved populations are not as well informed on the difference between for-profit institutions and nonprofit institutions. For-profit institutions will admit students during their first interaction, and then either obtain a credit card payment for the first semester or convince prospective students to complete a FAFSA and agree to use financial aid to pay. The entire purpose is to increase revenue, not benefit the student. In addition, for-profit institutions are typically much more expensive than nonprofit institutions. Our industry should be responsible for educating prospective students about the differences between types of institutions, both in quality of education, cost and motive.

In Conclusion

Online degree programs, an already excellent option for underserved communities, must be made more available, with the combination of local, state, and federal action, as well as additional support from funds that already assist.


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