Because online programs are typically targeted toward middle- and lower-income students, the authors say online education's promise of increasing access could actually increase social inequality.
But Jeff Davidson, strategic initiatives manager of The Free Education Initiative at the Saylor Foundation, says the savings of online education can already be seen in certain cases. Institutions such as the Southern New Hampshire University and Excelsior College offer competency-based and online degree programs for under $10,000.
But part of the reason lower cost, quality programs are not more widespread, Davidson says, is the fact that many students are still willing to pay higher prices for programs that exist.
"There are colleges that are going to take those resources and are going to use them to lower their price. Not everybody. There's always going to be a high priced product, that's in everything," Davidson says. "Water's free but people still pay three bucks for Evian. And as you can see from this report, price does not always equal quality."
"It'll come down to consumer choice and consumers getting informed," he added.
Davidson says he has no doubt that prices will drop for online-based programs, although it may not be seen immediately. Still, he says colleges partnering with private companies providing online program services need to keep cost in mind.
"A public college of any type who's partnering with a for-profit of any type needs to take extra steps to make sure that they're being as efficient as possible to keep that price down," Davidson says.