Online degree programs from state institutions is a big win for Floridians
At the end of the last millennium, a group of historians listed the 100 top inventions that changed the world during that 1,000-year span. Not surprising, Johannes Gutenberg's printing press with movable type was listed as No. 1, because of the ability to spread knowledge throughout the land at affordable prices that common people could afford. That basic idea is being taken a step further, at least on some level, by offering online college degrees from our state colleges and universities without stepping foot on a campus. In a story in today's Highlands Today, it's reported that the University of Florida soon will offer five degree programs online, and will expand to 30 in a few years. These courses will cost less than traditional classes. It's expected that about 20,000 UF students will use this program as a way to obtain higher education. South Florida State College offers a couple of fully online degrees, although the cost is the same as regular tuition. And other courses are offered online as well. The idea to be able to get a college degree online - and especially at a reduced cost - is fantastic. It opens up a big new world for a lot of people who, for whatever reason, cannot manage attending courses on college campuses. It also allows an institution such as the University of Florida, which turns away thousands of applicants due to lack of space, to provide higher learning to the masses, which is its mission.No one is suggesting that online courses are preferable to traditional classes, where students can easily interact with professors and other students. And one thing's for sure, online classes are often harder for students. It takes real discipline to work from a computer at home and stay up with class. Procrastination will cause a student to crash and burn. For some folks, however, online degree programs are not just preferable, they are necessary due to family, financial or even disability hardships. We're in a brave new world with all kinds of online possibilities. The Florida Legislature has pushed for expansion of online degree programs and we support that effort. Making higher education available to more people and at a better price makes sense in every regard. Nothing will replace the college campus environment. Those of us who have experienced it understand that was one of the best parts of our college experience. But having this option opens opportunity to many people, and that's always a step in the right direction.