Q: I just read an article about online colleges’ positive effects on the environment. What’s your take?

A: I have to be honest, I’ve never really thought about it before. But the more I do, yeah, it makes sense. More people taking classes online, reading their books online, taking notes online, writing their papers and taking tests online equals a heck of a lot less paper, right? But there’s definitely something to be said for the college experience. I mean, how do you wake up drunk without pants in someone else’s dorm? Whose exams do you cheat off of? These are all important questions that need to be asked when considering going to school online. Let’s weigh the pros and cons.

First, as I mentioned before, the amount of paper that could be saved is colossal. At this very moment, I have two, 70-quart plastic bins upstairs filled to the brim with notes and papers from my college courses. And that doesn’t include my textbooks. With online schooling, there’s no signage diarrhea, as I like to call it when one student club plasters flyers all over campus, ad nauseum. (Do we really need to see the pre-dental society’s elections flyer 18 times on the same bulletin board? We get it. It’s on the 25th during lunch in Room 218.)

Then there's the cost of commuting. Taking online college courses will force students who would otherwise commute to school to use less gas. Think of all the kids driving to city colleges and local universities in every city in America not driving to school anymore. That’s a big environmental impact right there, and probably safer too. My husband told me he used to clock his drive to University of Illinois in Chicago every day to see if he could beat his time, and therefore leave a little later each day. He actually got his 25-minute commute down to 11 minutes, 20 seconds if he timed all the lights right and hit the freeway before rush hour. These are the kinds of nutjobs we’d be keeping off the roads, people.

And don’t forget the amount of clothes college kids wouldn’t buy. I mean, granted, there are many college kids who go to class in their pajamas anyway, but think about what would happen if you could wear the same pajamas every day in your living room?

So yes, there are a lot of positive environmental impacts that online colleges offer. But then there’s the flip side. Arguably, college is the time in people's lives where they learn the most about themselves. They’ve left the proverbial nest, and are forced to encounter very different people. Who can forget co-ed touch football on the quad? Or reading a book under a tree on a lazy Monday morning after a party-hardy weekend? In fact, one could argue that if not for college events such as protests, sit-ins, and marches, we wouldn’t have all the granolas at MNN. Perhaps these green seeds would never have been planted. A sobering thought, especially for those of us employed here. 

The bottom line is simply this: Online college may, in fact, be the way of the future, and it definitely would cut down on a lot of waste. But consider this theoretical, yet important, question. Would Zack Morris have been the Big Man on Campus if he went to the University of Phoenix online? Or might he have ended up more like Screech? 

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