Welcome To The Age Of The Online High School

Tyler Durden's picture

Put down that prom dress. It seems, as ConvergEx's Nick Colas notes, Retail isn’t the only service moving from the brick and mortar world to the virtual one. Online high schools have been popping up (on the internet, of course) more and more often in the last few years: even Stanford University started a program in 2006. Of the 22 million high-school aged (14-18) population in the US, about 1 million are estimated to be enrolled in a class or a full-time high school online. That said, virtual schools are unlikely to replace traditional classrooms anytime soon: they’re still used mostly for supplemental or make-up courses rather than a complete education. But, Colas adds hopefully, the technology points in a positive direction: free high school education means more high school diplomas, which could lead to a higher labor force participation rate, lower unemployment, and higher earnings for those who might have otherwise dropped out.


Via ConvergEx's Nick Colas,

Online high schools may not become the norm, and they might not bring graduation rates to 100%, but they could be changing secondary education – and the workforce – for the better.

Note from Nick: Online education is moving upstream, from college to high school. Today Sarah looks at this emerging trend to see what it may mean for long term trends in unemployment, labor force participation, and social welfare.  Bottom line: Americans without a high school education face far worse economic prospects than any other cohort; anything that helps this group is worth exploring.

What if there was a way to add 3 million Americans to the labor force, increase earnings, reduce the unemployment rate, and increase labor force participation? Might sound too good to be true. But there is one way we might accomplish this: send the 25 or so million non-high school graduates back to school to get their diplomas. We’ll get to exactly how we can do that in a minute, but first a brief outline of the problem:

Of the 25 million or so US adults with less than a high school diploma, only 11.3 million are actually in the labor force; their participation rate was a dismal 43.7% in December 2013. In other words, if you don’t finish high school, you’re more likely than not to drop out of the labor force or never engage with it in the first place.


Men actually have a much higher rate of participation here – 57.9% - compared to women, of whom only 33.4% are active in the workforce.


The unemployment rate for those in the labor force currently stands at 9.8% - a full 3 percentage points above the headline number. That said, 9.8% is a significant improvement from November’s 10.6% and last year’s 11.6%.

So what would the labor force look like if all of these workers – who represent “only”  7.3% of employed Americans – were to complete their secondary educations, giving them the same employment outlook as high school graduates? We ran a few quick calculations, and this is what we came up with:

More than 3.5 million people would join the labor force. High school graduates – who now make up about 27% of the workforce, would then represent about 38%.


Of that number, 3.3 million would be employed – and would make about $10k more a year than they would have without a diploma, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics earnings data.


The overall participation rate would rise to 64.2%. Still not up to par with historical standards, but certainly higher than current rates.


Unemployment would drop to 6.5% overall – and the absolute number of unemployed persons would drop by about 40k. Again, not a huge improvement – but it’s getting there.

The US population has been slowly moving towards a labor market with more high school graduates with increasing graduation rates, but there’s one relatively new service that could help us accelerate the process: online high school. Almost every state has founded some form of online primary education in the last decade or so; the idea has actually been around since about 1993 when the EBUS Academy in Canada began offering virtual classes. Originally, it was intended to be supplementary to established high school classes, not a replacement for them: students could take higher level or more challenging courses that may not have been offered locally.

As it’s evolved, though, more and more online schools are offering full-time programs that result in a diploma in four years or less; even Stanford University founded its own online high school in 2006. It’s the luxury version of online education, of course: seminar-style and directed-study courses, full-time or part-time, for $16k a year. And it’s been quite successful; the school is currently home to a few young superstars in science and the arts. But it offers the same essential service as the free public school programs: students dictate their own schedule, and thus learn on their own terms and in their own time.

Still, online high schools are nowhere near replacing their brick and mortar counterparts just yet. While researchers agree they have a few advantages over traditional classrooms, some doubt its efficacy in the short and long term. Here are a few of the facts they highlight in the literature:

Out of about 22 million high school-aged kids in the US, 16 million are enrolled in some sort of high school – but less than 1 million are enrolled in online classes, according to estimates from Anthony Picciano and Jeff Seaman of the Sloan Consortium. More than half of these are online part-time students, or students only taking one supplementary class; very few are enrolled full-time.


A 2000 study (Bigbie & McCarroll) found that more than half of the students who completed an online course in Florida scored an A or higher; only 7% received a failing grade. Another study in 2009  by Barbour and Mulcahy showed that in more than 200,000 cases, students enrolled in online classrooms performed as well as traditional classroom students on exams.


Not all the news is positive, though. Researchers Ballas and Belyk (2000) reported that participation rates for virtual students were up to 30% lower than classroom-based students; Bigbie and McCarroll (2000) reported that 25-50% of the students they followed dropped out of their virtual courses over the period, skewing the year-end exam results higher.


Students in online high school courses tend to come from one of two backgrounds: highly motivated and overachieving, or underperformers required to repeat a class. According to Barbour, this bipolarization skews the literature of virtual school students to focus on the high performers – giving virtual schools a better rep than they might otherwise get. In 2007, the two classes with the highest enrollment in the US were Algebra I and Algebra II – and many of the students enrolled in the course were taking it for the second or third time. Put simply, there is a split between those students who take courses to challenge themselves – like those enrolled at Stanford – and those that John Watson (2008) calls “at-risk” students: those who probably would have dropped out of traditional schools. Online schooling might be effective for the former, but the jury is still out on the latter.

Despite some of these setbacks, its existing and potential advantages make online schooling a theoretical boon for society at large. Aside from offering out-of-reach classes to students who want them, there are three major benefits to virtual schools:

It gives everyone the opportunity to get a high school diploma – anywhere, any time – which means a more educated workforce, a larger workforce, and higher earnings potential. Currently, those without a high school diploma make about $10,000 less per year than someone who graduates: they’re also more likely to be unemployed, if they are even in the labor force. If they’re given the chance to complete their education on their own time and at their own pace, though, it’s possible that graduation rates will rise – quite a few states, in fact, have created public online schools for exactly this reason. With a high school diploma, those who may otherwise have dropped out increase their earnings potential and employment opportunities – and as we showed before, increase the participation rate and reduce unemployment.


As Stanford’s experiment exemplifies, it lets schools (and society) identify the all-stars even before they reach college age. It’s no fluke that Stanford’s online student body has so many award winners; they’re specifically selected because of their high potential and intellectual capabilities. Moreover, online education gives Stanford (and other schools) the chance to recruit from abroad, and thus bring the best and brightest in the world. And since the school can shape the education of its students, it would not be surprising if Stanford’s OHS became a funnel for the university: catching the students early on gives the school the possibility of enrolling an exceptionally bright or entrepreneurial student before they’re even teenagers.


Finally, like most online operations, virtual schooling helps lower costs. According to UC Berkeley, online classes each take about $50k-$100k to develop; but once they’re finished, they require very little maintenance. Eliminating the classroom, the books, the desks – all leads to lower costs for schooling. Some private online schools cost a pretty penny, yes – Stanford will set you back $16k for a year – but free public schools could benefit from this lower cost alternative to summer school or class repeats. And not to worry, teachers, you’re safe: online classrooms require an instructor, a grader, and a mentor. While you may not be teaching in front of a classroom, you can keep your job – and potentially work in your pajamas.

Again – online high school is not likely to take over the role of the traditional classroom anytime soon. And more research is necessary to determine its efficacy – though school districts in Georgia and Alabama are already touting the benefits of their programs. Overall, though, virtual schooling is a net positive: not only does it foster a larger, more educated workforce, but it also allows us to identify outperformers and lower costs. The only thing it’s missing is the prom.

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dark pools of soros's picture

and you bolded this many lines for this?? is that a random bold line generator?

CH1's picture

Government schools SUCK.

knukles's picture

Well there was a shooting today at a N.C. Mental Health Faciltiy

Get the irony?
Holy BeJesus....

bigdumbnugly's picture

an obviously glaring deficiency with online high schools would be the lack of backseat training available...

CrashisOptimistic's picture

So who thinks the NEA will allow themselves to be automated out of existence?

knukles's picture

"A teacher in every keyboard!"
Proudly serving America's youth

SafelyGraze's picture

the next game-changer:

online prison


Normalcy Bias's picture

This poses serious questions. If High School is taught online, how are the teachers going to bang the students?

Zero Point's picture

By web cam, as the students pay for their online tuition.

Richard Chesler's picture

Whether or not they can spell "Do you want fries with that?"

What fucking difference does it make?

Disenchanted's picture

Can I pay for my virtual education with bitcoinz?

smlbizman's picture

would not surprise one bit {get it} if fonestar bitch slapped the shit out of you for desecrating on "bitcoins" with your spelling error...i wouldn't want to be you..

kralizec's picture

I was going to ask if prom was online too, but damn, I guess we can skip that shit.

Debt-Is-Not-Money's picture

"Government schools SUCK."

Agreed, but you need to spend a night in the "box" to get your mind right!


max2205's picture

The only thing missing is the porn.....fixed it

Offthebeach's picture

The highest quality place in a government reeducation minimun skool is the cafeteria. After that its downhill.

Freddie's picture

This has been going on for a while with home schooling.  There has been course work created and online classes, etc etc.  This is why the NEA hates home schooling.  Oh and it is harder to brainwash the kids without the NEA but TV and Hollywood do their part to brainwash em.

W74's picture

There seems to be a fallacy in this country that high school diplomas make people smarter.

By extension that same fallacy suggests that college degrees make people smarter.  If you get one in your hand then you are smarter than you were the day before.

logicalman's picture

Pieces of paper tell a potential employer that you are capable of dealing with bullshit rules and keeping on being a 'productive citizen'

Talent just shows.

I know what kind of person I would be looking for.

CH1's picture

a fallacy in this country that diplomas make people smarter

It's the magic piece of paper: We've been taught that we MUST have it. Joe Average will pay anything to get it.

logicalman's picture

If kids can learn at home, what's the problem with home schooling?

Go to school, you get schooled.

Parents should be the educators.

That was my approach with my kids and it seems to have worked - they both think.


Deo vindice's picture

Homeschooled kids consistently score higher marks on tests than public schooled ones.

If a homeschooled kid applied for a job with me, I would automatically lean towards hiring him before the others.

They are generally much more able to work through a problem and think laterally than the indoctrinated ones coming out of the system.

Also, contrary to one of the (supposed) big negatives against homeschooling, those kids are much better socially adapted than those who aren't.

spinone's picture

That may be, but I see homeschooled kids who wear their underpants outside the pants.

markovchainey's picture

For every one homeschooled kid I see wearing his underwear outside his pants I see 100+ government schooled kids dressed the same.  


Food courts can be interesting. 

bobert's picture

No you don't Spinone.

My children were homeschooled.

You'd be amazed to see what they are doing with their careers today.

And they are very popular socially.

Seasmoke's picture

Been saying this for almost 10 years. 10 years later everyone still laughs at Me. Of course the public takers hate the idea. But also the parents who want an all day baby sitting service. 


Forget how much waste and savings can be had. 

logicalman's picture

I think you may have missed something.

Women's 'Lib' was not about 'liberating' women, it was about getting more people to tax.

I don't think women are inferior in society just because their role in life is different from that of the male.

The two are complementary and, in my view equal.

If it was left up to just guys, I think extinction wouldn't take long!

BidnessMan's picture

Brick & Mortar school is free day care for a good percentage of the "students".

knukles's picture

And a free lunch.
Don't forget the free lunch

But wait, says Knuks, there ain't no such thing as a free lunch!

logicalman's picture

I'm glad you added the small print!

Oleander's picture

Free breakfast too. Before school care opens at 7 am and afterschool care until 6 pm. Who is raising those kids?


williambanzai7's picture

Fast Times at Online High

The Gooch's picture

Fast Times at Mainline High.

(sad truth)


U4 eee aaa's picture

Yeah man. To pay for the school they could sell links to online porn sites where the porn companies could set up virtual peepholes into virtual cheerleader's dressing rooms (I don't know where I got that idea from). The total school experience

U4 eee aaa's picture

This is so cool. The internet has now made it possible to flunk out from the comfort of your own home! :)

Matt's picture

There is no failing, you just stay at the same level until you complete it, however long that takes. Government should totally pay people $15 an hour to do that, there is no way it could backfire.

random shots's picture

"free high school education means more high school diplomas, which could lead to a higher labor force participation rate, lower unemployment, and higher earnings for those who might have otherwise dropped out."


This only makes sense if there is a supply shortage of high school grads for higher paying jobs.  This will most likely result in a higher labor supply for the same jobs which will push earnings down. 

U4 eee aaa's picture

Educational version of Sisyphus

logicalman's picture

There are a multitude of jobs requiring a multitude of skills.

There are a multitude of people with different skills.

Any sane society would at least attempt to fit the right people to the right task (from the point of view of the individual performing said task). People doing something that makes them happy do it better than those doing it because they have to. Some people can hold their noses while shovelling shit if it makes them the money to do what they want to do in the time they are not working.

Let supply and demand sort out remuneration.

A safety net of some kind is essential, IMHO, in any decent society. Even fossil humans show that old and infirm people were cared for.


Deo vindice's picture

I met a fossil human recently. He didn't seem to care for much of anything actually. ;-)

Tall Tom's picture

Currently we have far too many College Graduates whom are unemployed. If they are earning ZERO then how can a High School Grad be earning $10,000 less than ZERO if he is also unemployed?


Oh...I know...The author of the article was writing about Statistical Averages.


There is a Supply Shortage of productive employment in the United States currently. That is the reality.


An Education for the High Schooler, online, or Brick and Mortar, is not going to make the unemployment problem any better.


The author of the original article is high on Hopium.


You might have better stated that the article makes absolutely no sense at all.


THis is Main Stream Media claptrap...drivel.


Without a fundamental change in our system the entire generation, uneducated, or educated, will be lost.


(When Obama wanted to provide the opportunity for a College Education to everyone that meant that he wanted to produce a glut of Bachelor's Degrees. With an increasing supply of Degrees the value of the Degree declines. If supply is restricted upon merit then the value of the Degree increases.)


Education is not a panacea. MOAR EDUMAKATION IS NOT A SOLUTION.



cynicalskeptic's picture

There is a Supply Shortage of productive employment in the United States currently. That is the reality.

THAT is the fundamental truth underlying all of the current problems.  We have seen a mindless pursuit of the cheapest possible labor costs by corporate employers - irregardles of the other effects on society.  'Free Trade' has meant wholesale offshoring of manufacturing jobs - followed by comp sci positions, call center customer support jobs and pretty much anything that can be relocated.  The west has seen factories moved overseas lock, stock and barrel.  Meanwhile you have cheap labor brought in legally via H1B visas or illegally to suppress wages for jobs that can't be relocated.  You have some VERY highly educated doctorate and post doctorates who are vastly underpaid in technical fields while minimal or unskilled jobs are filled with illegals.  Forty years ago I dod woerk (as oart of my engineering degree) in meatoacking plants.  At that point most were unionized, paying good wages and benefits - needed to reduce what had been high turnover levels.  Productivity was high and turnover low in what was really a crappy job - but salary and benefits offset the working conditions.  Ford's unintentional discovery that paying workers more actually created MORE consumers had proven correct.  Productivity increased and so did profits.   But that POV is viewed as naievely anachronistic today. The real irony is that the US is OVEREDUCATING many of its youth in fields that do nothing to increase their value in the job market.  High schools push college - even for those who are not really qualified.  Gone are the days of wood shop, metal shop and auto shop.  You have people  going in to trades by default now because their uncle owns a plumbing business instead of having people who would be good in these jobs.  Auto mechanics require more skill now than many college degrees - and require continuing education.  Yet basic accounting degrees - which guaranteed employment 40 years ago - now see much of their work fed to people in India.  All those people that naievely retrained as computer programmers after losing manufacturing jobs saw the existing jobs in that field evaporate as they were shipped overseas. The jobs that remain are often NOT 'productive' - they do not creae wealth or add value in any way shape or form.  Attorneys, bankers, and many more exist only to deal woith wealth already created by others - except that wealth is no longer being created.  The US does little mining, smelting and manufacturing these days.  Our focus is on CONSUMPTION - that is how our economy is measured these days - consumption, not PRODUCTION.   At least the robber barons created industry, and jobs along with the wealth they EARNED.  Today we have the ultra wealthy simply looting whatever they can from the wealth remaining in society. Unlike the 1930's when government paid the unemployed to WORK and add value to society in exchange for the payment they received - think of the CCC and WPA - now we pay people NOT to work and finance those payments with ever increasing debt. The US saw massive increases in productivity over the last 40 years but the increased profits gained through those increases were not shared with workers but went only to a very few at the top of the economic pyramid.  Consumption was funded not by expanded earnings but by debt. 99% of the US workforce ended up worse off 
Daisy Duke's picture

Wish I could give this more than 1 up arrow. Right on Cynical

akak's picture

Oh great, even MORE socially-inept, socially withdrawn, navel-gazing, computer-obsessed disfunctional young people even MORE tethered to the e-leash. 

They'll virtually be part of the REAL world.

Yeah, that's what this society really needs.

logicalman's picture

Unfortunately, that is what today's society needs.

Somehow, society needs to change, so that values change.

Make learning fun and any kid will learn.


knukles's picture

Or really be part of a virtual society.
Or be virtually apart from society

Oh who gives a fuck anyhow?  There aren't enough jobs to go around so why even bother to pretend?

disabledvet's picture

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6AiM-dfe7M gonna ruin the country i'll tell ya'.

might wanna get some privacy settings on that there thing.
things might get out of control...