Data Caps, Increased Costs Could Present an Obstacle for Online Students

Compiled by Jamar Ramos
March 8, 2013

Many people have dealt with the pain of overage charges for using too much data on their smartphones, tablets or laptops. It is a delicate balance, unless an individual only visits places that have Wi-Fi available. The problem could negatively impact online education if data caps begin hitting online students in the wallet.

One of the lures of taking online courses is that it may end up being more cost effective than taking the same course in an on-campus format. Working adults don't have to ask for time off in order to attend a scheduled course, and parents don't have to pay for a babysitter to watch their children. Materials may even cost less for an online class. As the price tag for education continues to rise at some schools, saving a few dollars wherever possible is important for students.

Participating in online education necessitates the use of the Internet to read course material, submit assignments, and watch video and lectures. With data caps, completing an online course may end up being just as, if not more expensive, than enrolling in a distance learning course. Having to spend hours watching videos and using the Internet can eat into the pool of data that customers are allotted each month. The charges for overages add up, and the expense may be one that prices many people out of online education in the long run.

Residents of rural areas may be hit hard by this problem. Sometimes travelling to a brick-and-mortar campus may be difficult for someone living outside city limits. Having the convenience of attending classes over the Internet may help them make the choice to earn a degree. Living in a rural area can also mean that Internet service is spotty, and sometimes having a mobile connection is the only way to assure a strong signal. Incurring monthly overage charges could eventually cause enough economic hardship that these students may have to drop their classes.

It isn't just rural residents who should fear the invisible hand that may soon be reaching for their paychecks. Anyone who uses mobile broadband devices in order to connect to the Internet may find themselves paying more than they ever have. Working professionals who are taking courses online may choose to do some work as they travel, whether that be on the bus, train, or in the airport. How much of their data ration would they use up as they connect to the Internet remotely? How much extra would they have to pay in order to keep up with their coursework?

While there are critics that believe that online education isn't as good as the face-to-face experience, data limits may be the real opposition to the growth of distance learning. Students can ignore all the claims that online learning doesn't have the same capacity to educate as on-campus courses, but they can't ignore the exploding bills they may receive thanks to data overages. Many turn to online education because it may be the less expensive option. Where will they turn when even that option becomes too expensive?


“Data Caps Could Dim Online Learning’s Bright Future,” chronicle.com, March 4, 2013, Benjamin Lennett and Danielle Kehl