With online options, 'college experience' isn't what it used to be

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The contrast is relevant to the debates going on now about the value of online college courses. Critics’ comments, like those at Duke University and Amherst, and others whose faculties worry about their job security, suggest the criticism is self-protective. 

More relevant is the question of whether the essence of college is the social experiences we kids and our counterparts had in the day, whether the vets didn't have what is the essence of the college experience. I believe they got more out of college than we did; they were there for the real purpose of college: to get an education in the classroom. 

My experience at Syracuse University was the same a friend had as a young student at Indiana University. He recalled an incident in a poetry class when the professor was rambling about personal experiences. An older vet in his class exclaimed, "Stick with the course please. We can chat about stuff later." The younger students, like my friend, were shocked.

The centuries-old picture of professors walking the campus with students at their side isn't how college works nowadays. Like the community colleges that provide education for young students who can't afford to go off to college or are working while going to school, the online education provides valuable alternatives to economically middle- and lower-class youngsters. 

The escalating costs of, say, a Princeton education — likely to approach $100,000 a year by the time my grandkids qualify — are too precious for most people anyway. And Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s life story proves that the social connections at the Ivy schools aren't what help those outside the 1 percent anyway. She says in her book she felt like an outsider at college and lived in the library. 

Might she have succeeded as she did doing her work online?

Goldfarb is an attorney, author and literary agent based in Washington, D.C., and Miami. www.ronaldgoldfarb.com.