Are Online Degrees Cheaper Than Traditional Degrees?

How do the costs of online programs compare to those of on-campus counterparts? Learn about the state of online education and if it can help you save money.

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October 13, 2021 8 min read

Anyone pursuing higher education knows that there is a laundry list of factors to consider. The modern student has one item on that list that the students of 20 years ago did not—online vs. on-campus education.

Since cost is a factor for many future students, they will naturally want to know if online degrees are cheaper than on-campus degrees. Sometimes, they are! The length of the program, material costs for at-home vs. on-campus learning, and the number of faculty and support staff are just some of the factors that can impact the final cost of a degree or diploma.

But cost is just one of many criteria to consider when choosing both your program and school. In the end, the program you select will be an investment in your future and your career. And you’ll have to choose the program that you think will best help you to achieve your goals.

Let’s explore the current state of online degrees and some of the factors that contribute to their costs.

The Trend Toward Online Degrees

In the 2007-2008 school year, only 20% of students were enrolled in at least one distance learning course. And a mere 4% were enrolled in distance learning degree programs.1

Just 10 years later, nearly 7 million of the over 19 million college students in the US were in at least one distance learning course. That’s over 30% of all college students. And of that 7 million, nearly half were in exclusively online programs.2

After they complete their programs, what do online students have to say about the quality of their education? The reports are favorable. 75% of students say that online learning is equal to or better than in-person school!3

Tracy Lorenz, President and CEO of Triumph Higher Education Group & Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts“Online learning is much more than placing ground-based curriculums online. It is a specialized process designed to produce the same student outcomes as traditional residential programs. It is both art and science.”
Tracy Lorenz, President and CEO of Triumph Higher Education Group & Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts

These numbers show a dramatic change in the way millions of students are choosing to get their education. And the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed this trend even further. Why else are so many more students choosing to attend college online?


What’s Pushing the Trend Toward Online Degrees?

When online degrees were new, some skeptics doubted the quality of distance learning. But based on the numbers we just discussed, it’s clear that more and more students are seeing their value. Here are a few reasons they’re becoming more common.

Online Degrees May Be Cheaper than On Campus Degrees

Some online degree programs are moderately cheaper than in-person degrees. Since cost can be a barrier to education for some, this can be a factor in favor of online education.

What may account for this price difference? Online programs often have lower overhead, with fewer buildings and classrooms. And there is less staff, like custodians and cafeteria workers.

Beyond tuition, online school may help students save in other ways. They don’t have to pay for gas, parking, or other commuting costs. Plus, students still living at home can stay there, rather than moving to a dorm or apartment and paying for room and board.

On the other hand, online students may have to provide more of their own materials. And they have to ensure high-speed internet access so they can complete and submit their assignments.

When comparing programs, do a close “apples to apples” comparison of the same programs on campus and online. Take every cost into account, including where you’ll live, your commuting costs, materials needed, and anything else you can think of.

Modern Technology Has Made Online Learning Possible

The technology that facilitates online education has progressed by leaps and bounds. Before the internet, “distance learning” was only available through written correspondence courses. Students would receive their materials and return their assignments by mail. Even in the early days of the internet, connections could be slow and unreliable.

But now, a teacher can live-stream their class to students all over the world with minimal delays. This is especially important in a skills-based program like culinary arts or pastry arts, where you have to watch demonstrations. A lag or a blip could make you miss a vital step in that soufflé recipe!

Online Programs Offer Unmatched Convenience and Flexibility

The way we pursue higher education has changed. While some students still have the luxury of focusing exclusively on school during their certificate or degree programs, many find that working during their program is a necessity.

Online education provides students with the flexibility they need to continue to work or take care of their family obligations while studying. The lack of commute saves time each day. And many programs let students complete their coursework on their own schedule, as long as they meet the program’s deadlines. Plus, online learning makes school available to people no matter where they live, without the need to relocate.

For those who have to work while they study and don’t have the option of moving, this flexibility is the only way they’re able to pursue their education. Online culinary school students often complete their coursework while also working at a restaurant, in a bakery, or in other culinary jobs. This lets them pursue their education and work experience all at once, without having to commute to and from school.

“The online program gives me the opportunity to be educated by great chefs that are already masters in their domain but in the comfort and familiar surroundings of my home.”Scott Brooker, Escoffier Online Culinary Arts Graduate

Culinary student following food styling technique on computer

How Do Employers View Online Degrees and Diplomas?

There may be some old school employers who are skeptical of the online learning model, usually because they don’t understand it. But Gen X and Millennial employers—who make up most of the current workforce—are more computer literate and tech savvy, and therefore much more likely to appreciate distance learning. In fact, in 2018, 71% of HR managers said they had hired someone with an online credential in the past year.4

A more important factor than online vs. on-campus may be accreditation and school reputation. An online degree from Harvard is still going to stand out on a resume, while an in-person degree from an unknown school may be less helpful.

A good way to approach concerns about an online degree is to wait until the interview to discuss it. Your degree is your degree, and you don’t have to specify what campus you attended on your resume. In the interview setting, you can allay any concerns that an employer has by explaining how in-depth and comprehensive your education was. The best people to explain online degrees are those who have them!

You can also share the reasons you chose to get an online degree, if asked in the interview. Maybe it was a better financial decision for you, and it gave you the flexibility to continue working while you pursued your education. This can help you to prove that you considered the challenge from all angles, and made a smart decision to further your career. The potential employer may also respect your time management skills!

“Students from the [Escoffier] online program — I was very, very impressed when I saw the energy and skills and knowledge they were bringing to the company.”
Michael Pythoud, Walt Disney World Deluxe Resorts Culinary Director

Are Online Culinary Degrees Cheaper Than On-Campus?

That depends entirely on the school and program. At some schools, online degree and diploma programs can be earned for less than their on-campus counterparts.

At Escoffier, the cost differences between online and on-campus programs are moderate. Escoffier is also the only U.S. accredited institution offering 100% online degrees with culinary classes and hands-on industry externships.5 That accredited status makes it easier for students to qualify for federal financial aid. And this puts a culinary school education within reach.

Chef typing on laptop computer on table with knife, eggs, and vegetables

No Matter How You Attend, Culinary School Is an Investment in Your Future

Online degrees may be cheaper than traditional degrees—or they may be comparably priced. Students must carefully compare programs, curricula, and costs to find the right programs to help them reach their goals. An education is an investment in your future, and in the kind of cook or chef you hope to become.

Escoffier’s Financial Advisors can help you learn more about paying for culinary school, no matter how you choose to attend.

For more information about online culinary education, try these resources next:

3Education Dynamics
4Northeastern University
5Our Boulder, CO campus is the only accredited institution in the United States to offer both fully online diploma and degree programs with culinary classes and hands-on industry externships. We are accredited by ACCET – A Partnership for Quality®?. ACCET is listed by the U.S. Department of Education as a nationally recognized accrediting agency.

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