As the cost of higher education continues to increase, online classes have been held up as a less expensive alternative.
But at the University of Minnesota, and elsewhere, these classes can mean additional fees on top of tuition costs — something some students and faculty members are unaware of.
University students taking more than one Online Distance Learning credit are charged an additional fee between $90 and $270, depending on the number of credits taken.
Nick Biondich has taught the ODL version of a University accounting class for nearly 18 years and said he’s never heard of the fee.
Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education Bob McMaster said most instructors aren’t aware of many of the fees students pay, including the ODL fee, because it’s not relevant to them.
“In my role as a faculty [member], I rarely get involved with tuition-related issues,” Biondich said.
Freshman Vanessa Nelson said the fee would discourage her from taking an online course.
“I find [online classes] more challenging than face-to-face,” she said. “I just don’t really think it’s worth the extra money.”
The cost of providing courses
The University offered more than 1,200 online classes in 2012, McMaster said.
Each online class costs the University between $20,000 and $100,000 in startup expenses, he said, and part of the ODL fee goes to recovering those costs.
ODL Assistant Director Joan Saunders said the University also uses part of the fee to keep copyrighted information online instead of having students buy a course packet, as they might for a traditional class.
Other institutions also charge additional fees for online classes, though amounts vary.
At the University of Illinois-Springfield, students pay a $25 fee for each credit hour they take as an online course.
Ohio State University charges a $100 fee per term for students taking distance learning courses. The fee pays for “24-7 distance education support,” according to the school’s website.
But even though online classes and their fees are relatively new, distance learning has always come at a cost.
When ODL courses were first offered at the University, McMaster said, they came with separate fees because students and instructors had to pay to mail course materials back and forth.
As online classes became more common, he said, expenses for providing and maintaining them increased, directing money away from individual courses.
“Historically, these were separate units, and as separate units, they had to earn their own revenue and didn’t have the resources of the whole University behind them,” McMaster said.