Rio Salado College

Student studyingDuring the school selection process, some students become experts at parsing cost-of-living charts. These are the data-rich tables that tell students how much it might cost to live in a specific place, if expenses due to housing, food, transportation, and entertainment are all taken into account.

By choosing a place with a lower cost of living, these students hope to spend a little less on their total education bill.

Students who study those charts might be drawn to Arizona. After all, according to Arizona Indicators, the state often comes in below average in terms of cost, especially in the years following the so-called “Great Recession.” That means students who pick Arizona often get a great value for a low price.

There are some Arizona students who don’t need to pay attention to issues of price at all. They’re still going to school, and they’re still paying for that education, but they don’t need to worry about how much Arizona costs over another state. That’s because they’re attending Rio Salado College. While this school is located in Arizona, it offers degrees on an online-only model, and according to the school’s website, some 250,000 students have taken advantage of that opportunity.

The Rio Salado College Learning Model

Students who attend Rio Salado College don’t walk into a classroom in order to learn. They don’t sit next to other students as they take courses. Instead, when it’s time to learn, these students log onto computers and take their classes in a virtual world.

Online classes aren’t necessarily passive. Students who take courses like this often have an opportunity to interact with a teacher and with other students. They might participate in chat sessions, trade email messages, or post in forums. Students might turn in papers, take online tests, or record presentations. There’s a great deal of robust learning going on, but none of that learning might be happening in a typical, traditional classroom.

Online classes like this can seem a little strange. After all, most people are accustomed to face-to-face learning sessions involving a teacher in a room filled with students. It might seem odd to place a teacher in a room that might be hundreds of miles away from any student at all, but in reality, classes like this really can help students to learn. In fact, in a study of the issue by the Online Learning Consortium, researchers found that 77 percent of academic leaders felt that students had the same learning outcome (or a superior outcome) in an online class that they might experience in a face-to-face class. The setting might be different, but the learning is the same.

The online model might be appealing to all sorts of people. In fact, Rio Salado College suggests that 60,000 people use the school each year. Those students include:

These students enjoy the flexibility that online classes provide. They might not be able to handle a commute and long class times, but they might be very capable of dealing with virtual learning and flexible schedules.

Cost might also be a consideration for some students. Virtual schools like this don’t require a great deal of administrative oversight. There are no huge campus buildings to maintain or massive sports teams to support. Instead, the money can be spent on program development, and the cost savings can trickle down to students. Since Rio Salado College charges just $84 per credit hour, according to the school’s website, that savings can be significant. It could push some students to choose this school above others.

Other Ways to Save

Rio Salado College administrators seem aware of the fact that students might need help with tuition and fees. As a result, administrators have pulled together a number of programs that could save students money. For example, the institution has developed a program in which students can buy textbooks at a 51 percent savings, and at the end of the course, these students could take books back to the bookstore for returns. Programs like this provide a two-phase benefit, as students save both upfront and when the course is through. That could be great for students hoping to keep costs down.

There are private things students can do, too, that could add up to big savings. For example, an analysis from the United States Census Bureau suggests that about 72 percent of students enrolled in an undergraduate college program also work while they’re in school. The money they bring in makes paying for school a little easier, and it could be quite easy to hold down a job while in a virtual school. After all, virtual students can set their own schedules for class. They can look for classes that don’t conflict with their work schedules, and they could keep on earning while they’re in school.

Holding down a job while enrolled at Rio Salado College could also help students to make connections in the workforce. They’ll have colleagues to draw on for help with references when they’re work in class is through. Sometimes, students who keep going to work while in school transition to new jobs in the companies in which they work. They don’t need to look for jobs when they’re done with school. They have jobs waiting for them, all lined up and ready to go.

In addition to working, students at Rio Salado College can make a few lifestyle changes to keep costs down. In a study of the issue, researchers found that 62 percent of students in college have budgets that help them to track expenses. Students might take a hard look at those budget figures and make cuts in key expenditures, such as:

By cinching up the household just a little bit tighter, students attending Rio Salado College could make great strides toward paying for school. Each little step they take could help them to emerge from school with a smaller loan bill to pay.

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