The Daily Tar Heel

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Saturday January 22nd

Online classes present cost challenge for students

UNC sophomore Sarah Morton couldn’t find the nutrition class she needed on Connect Carolina this semester, forcing her to enroll in an online course at N.C. State University.

Similar to other universities, Morton had to pay an additional fee on top of tuition to take an online course at N.C. State.

“My parents pay my tuition, and they were not happy about it,” she said.

“This money is an additional cost.”

But Morton actually saved some money, compared to what she would spend to take an online class at UNC.

The prices of courses at the William and Ida Friday Center for Continuing Education, which offers Carolina Courses Online to UNC students, is set by the UNC system’s General Administration.

Tim Sanford, associate director for credit programs for part-time students at the Friday Center, said the price tags for courses are less expensive than regular on-campus tuition and costs, but it is an additional cost for a full-time student.

Whereas a full-time student does not have to pay more tuition if he or she takes more than 12 credit hours of on-campus instruction, taking any online credits incurs an additional fee.

“A number of students come to us, and when they find out they have to pay extra tuition, they just don’t have the money to do that,” he said.

The price of the online courses at UNC is determined by the credit hours earned — including tuition and fees, a one credit hour course costs $230 while a three credit hour course is $690. Out-of-state students would pay $966 and $2,898, respectively.

He said the price for online class tuition was determined in 1997 by the University, and the online course program was set up to be self-sufficient.

But not every university in the UNC system has stuck to the model.

At N.C. State University, educators have replaced the system of payment that was created by the state legislature.

“We decided at NC State that we would try to fix it here on our own,” said Tom Miller, vice-provost for distance education and learning technology applications at NCSU.

Miller said NCSU previously used a model similar to UNC’s to price the online courses offered — but said the formula and structure created a disadvantage for students who had to pay extra fees that would not apply to on-campus courses.

“(The state legislature) also specified that you determine the tuition by taking the full-time undergraduate tuition dividing that by 29.6, and that becomes the cost-per credit hour,” Miller said about the previous model used by N.C. State.

But beginning Fall 2012, on-campus degree-seeking students at NCSU could take an online course without additional tuition costs. Full-time students can now take a combination of online and on-campus courses without additional fees.

Miller said these changes resulted in a 25 percent increase in the total enrollment of online courses between Fall 2011 and 2012 and a small increase in the total credit hours that full-time, on-campus students took.

“We saw a big benefit in that regard in terms of helping students with progress towards degree,” he said.

Sophomore Katie Rice is paying almost $700 to be enrolled in an online philosophy course this semester. She said the price of the class is worth the education, but it’s not cheap.

“I needed a philosophy credit and I couldn’t get into the regular class time,” she said. “I thought this would be more convenient.”

Although Rice’s online tuition pays for the administrative costs and instruction, she must also pay for her books and materials needed for the class.

Rice said she didn’t understand why she had to pay extra money, adding that no one had explained why the fee was necessary.

“I think it should be the same,” she said.

“I don’t see why it needs to be more expensive, but I do like it so far, and I think I like it as much as a regular classroom class.”

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