ATLANTA - Jenni Small has good reason for avoiding 8 a.m. world literature classes at Dalton State College in northern Georgia. The 23-year-old works night shifts as an operator for carpet manufacturer Shaw while finishing her bachelor's degree in mathematics.
Instead of heading straight to class from work, she uses eCore - an online system that focuses on "core" classes that every Georgia state college or university student must take - for 1 or 2 courses each semester.
Cost was the only thing that kept her from taking even more classes online, Small said. On-campus credit hour charges at Dalton State this year are $97.27, compared to $189 for eCore.
"Having to pay out of pocket, at least at first, for school was a factor," she said.
System officials are hoping to address that in the fall, when the cost of eCore classes will drop $20 per credit hour. It's the first time the system's Board of Regents has lowered tuition for the online program since its 1999 launch, and a stark contrast to the tuition increases also approved this week at all 31 brick-and-mortar state campuses.
Traditional students like Small could benefit from the tuition cut, but the change is primarily aimed at adults who never earned a college degree. Georgia is in the midst of an effort to boost the number of residents with degrees. Less than 30 percent of Georgians had obtained a bachelor's degree or higher, according to 2010 Census results.
As that push began, eCore staff worried that classes were too expensive for those non-traditional students, said Mike Rogers, assistant vice chancellor of faculty development. Online faculty members also are being encouraged to consider free resources, or at least more affordable textbooks.
"I have students in my class who say if it's a choice between spending $100 on a textbook and groceries, they're going to choose groceries," said Rogers, who teaches a communications course through eCore.
Karen Duke started taking eCore classes just before her 50th birthday, encouraged to get a college degree by her kids and grandkids. About three years later, Duke is halfway to a business management degree and working full time as an office manager for the nursing school at the University of West Georgia.
As a system employee, she gets a break on tuition but hopes that lower costs will encourage other non-traditional students to use online classes.
"It was something on my bucket list, but you start wondering how much it will cost me to check it off," Duke, 52, said.