The recent recession has adversely affected most segments of the population, but especially Latinos. And while the country struggles to recover, some reports suggest that lack of higher education opportunities is stalling Latino advancement in today’s economy. Because of the stagnant job sector, more Latinos are opting to go back to college to reverse the trend. The Pew Research Center reported in 2007-2008 (the start of the recession), a record 2.6 million freshmen started classes at more than 6000 higher-ed institutions. Latino students accounted for the highest freshmen enrollment (15%) of all racial/ethnic groups. And in an increasingly digitally connected world, more and more of them are looking at online college degrees as a way to save time and money.
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With basic tuition costs ranging, on average, from $7,000 per year for a two-year public college and up to $26,000-plus for a four-year public college, finding the financial resources necessary for a solid college education can be a monumental stretch for the average student. Private universities can cost even more, with some ranging from $45,000/year to hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.
Latino families and students can apply for financial aid , but more and more tech-savvy students are attending college online and saving a lot of money in the process. Online classes can enroll more students than traditional on-campus courses, so they provide more opportunities for students while at the same time, they are money-earners for colleges and universities. A recent study from the University of Texas shows that some universities can cut costs by as much as 50% with a switch to online courses.
Companies catering to online students, like Coursera and Udacity, are touting the benefits of online education options. Online colleges are not only less costly, they are more flexible. Students who work full- or part-time can complete coursework at any time of day and can often control the pace at which they study. And as more universities offer online degrees, the range of major offerings—and therefore career options—is increasing as well.
You can receive a quality education with online university classes as long as you make sure to do your research. Check the accreditation of online schools, read reviews and get a feel for the school’s reputation. Some online schools are affiliated with traditional universities, and that affiliation could help add credibility to your degree and in the event that you want to go on to graduate studies. Make sure the credits you are taking are transferable, should you decide to switch schools down the road.
Also study the coursework you are looking to pursue. Does the school offer all the courses you will need to complete your certificate or degree? Are the courses relevant to your prospective career? Are the faculty readily available to help? Will hands-on or lab work be required?
MANAGING THE COSTS
To help manage the costs of a college education, search for grants and scholarships. The Hispanic Scholarship Fund is a great place to start. It’s the nation’s largest non-profit group helping Latinos get funding for higher education. Check your aid eligibility with your school’s financial aid office, and speak to the human resources director at your workplace about any assistance available for employees seeking to earn a degree.
Before enrolling in college, put together a plan detailing your education needs, the yearly costs and your overall goals. This plan will give you a roadmap on how to accomplish these goals and, just as importantly, how to pay for them.