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How Lasell College Uses Online Programs to Lower Costs for Students

Getting a college degree today isn’t easy. Prices are high, acceptance rates are low, and the constant competition is difficult. Thankfully, Lasell College is one of a handful of colleges making strides to increase affordability and ease of access to a degree through their online programs.

This past month, we interviewed Michael Alexander, President of Lasell College, at their campus in Newton, Massachusetts. In the interview we discussed Lasell’s online services, which include an immense amount of purely structured online courses, as well as hybrid online courses for students.

The online program was first developed back in 2003, as part of Lasell’s graduate and professional program.

According to Alexander, “Eventually those programs grew, and the graduate program became much larger. So, we started offering online courses to undergraduates—first, in the summer. And we’ve been doing that 6-7 years now.”

Alexander says he hopes to grow the individual’s experience while at college, even when enrolled in online classes. As part of the effort to grow this experience for students, Lasell is part of a group of 16 small colleges who are working to create lower cost models for independent colleges across the country.

“There is no way to significantly lower the cost without changing the way we deliver the education,” Alexander noted. “What this group is doing is encouraging one another to try things. The group is trying to look at what private college is going to look like in twenty years; and we need to start experimenting, sharing data, so we can figure out what works and what doesn’t.”

Alexander also explained that the group of colleges is developing two programs together that the colleges would share. If successful, it could make the per student cost very low. They’re aiming to cut the costs 30-50%.

Sadly, taking an online course does not necessarily mean you are saving money everywhere. Many assume that pricing for online courses must be lower than physically attending a class at a college or university. But according to a survey conducted by WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET), most colleges usually charge students the same or more to take a course online.

The survey also found that these higher prices are correlated to higher production costs. The authors of the study, Russell Poulin and Terri Taylor Straut, note that producing an online course comes with working with “licensing software, engaging instructional designers, training faculty members and offering around-the-clock student support, among other added costs.”

“And all this is supposed to cost less?” the report reads.

But for students who register for online courses at Lasell College, it does.

Lasell manages to shell out credits for around $600 a piece for graduate students enrolled in an online program. Undergraduates who take online courses in the summer pay $400 a credit; 36% of the normal tuition rate. This has recently become part of the pricing for Lasell’s January inter-term for undergraduates as well, and just this year, Lasell started offering online courses for undergraduate students throughout the entire school year.

“We know it is more and more difficult for students and their families to pay for a private college education. We’ve been working hard to figure out some alternative way to deliver that high quality private education but at a significantly lower cost,” Alexander said.

The college hopes these online courses can help students get ahead of their current academic plan. This is significantly lower than other colleges around the Massachusetts area, and something the Lasell administration is immensely proud of.

But tuition is just the beginning. In a part of this effort to lower costs for students, Lasell recently launched a new pilot program for rising sophomores of good academic standing where they are able to live off campus for the semester, avoiding the room and board charge. The student gets to work at a paid job 16-20 hours a week, while they take 4-5 online courses at the same time.

“Again, we charge 36% of the normal tuition rate. It turns out to be much less expensive,” Alexander notes.

The college is working to expand the pilot program from one semester to a full year.

“You won’t be here (on campus), but you will gain that work experience—learning from it, having that work experience align with coursework, taking courses that sophomores would be required to take anywhere, and then saving $15,000-$20,000. Then [you] come back for your junior and senior year,” explained Alexander.

As more students turn away from the standard four-year college experience, online programs like Lasell’s will continue to rise and bring in students who want a better shot at getting a higher education. Hopefully, this trend toward more accessible and affordable education through digital means will continue to grow.

Note: This story has been updated from its original version.

Jessica Filippone

Jessica Filippone

Jess is a senior at Emerson College, studying journalism with a primary focus in news management. She is also an anchor and on air personality for 88.9 WERS FM Boston. When she isn't writing or doing her radio thing, you can find her on the beach with a New York Times Best Seller.