High gas prices have had some positive effects, such as increasing the popularity of mass transit, cycling, and compact cars, as well as reducing the amount of miles that Americans drive. However, as the NY Times reported yesterday, gas prices are also causing a surge in enrollment in online courses, as students are increasingly finding it too expensive to drive to class. Whether or not online courses are effective can be debated, but few would argue that they can provide the same educational and social experience as traditional courses. One student summed it up best: "I don't feel I get as much out of an online class as a campus course. . .But I couldn't afford any other decision." Yet at a time when America is falling behind in education (it has been for quite some time), we can't afford to diminish the quality of the education our students receive.
Alternatives Don't Sprout Overnight
The problem is that "of the nation's 15 million college students — at least 79 percent — live off campus," and given how spoiled we have become by cheap gasoline, many of those students have never had to consider alternative ways of getting to class. What's more, now that they are looking for alternatives, often times they are lacking entirely or highly inefficient, since mass transit, bike lanes and cities designed on a human scale don't just sprout overnight. So instead, "colleges from Massachusetts and Florida to Texas to Oregon have reported significant online enrollment increases for summer sessions, with student numbers in some cases 50 percent or 100 percent higher than last year."
Online Courses Are No Silver Bullet
Still, online courses won't be solving all the problems associated with our car-dependent culture and high gas prices. For one thing, many of the students that are hardest hit by long commutes to class live in rural areas, where internet access is spotty and sometimes non-existent. Another problem is that "most colleges still offer only a fraction of their courses over the Internet."
For now, the best approach may be a "hybrid model" wherein a course has an online component as well as a classroom component, thereby reducing the need to drive to school without eliminating the classroom experience. But thinking long-term, America simply cannot allow its education system to be degraded further; add that to the laundry list of reasons for why we need alternatives not just to oil, but also to cars.
Via: ::NY Times
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