5 traits of the best online high schools

As school administrators know all too well, the education marketplace in America is increasingly competitive. Today, parents and students can choose from a long list of options including traditional public schools, charter schools, private schools, homeschooling, and even online schools to best meet their child’s unique needs and career goals.

With so many choices available, it can be tough for private schools to stand out among the crowd. Sure, private schools usually offer the highest quality education available with impressive college placement statistics. But their higher price tag often limits the pool of potential students to draw from—and makes recruitment and retention an ongoing challenge.

But what if there was a way for private school admins to offer the best of both worlds—a high-quality, brick-and-mortar, private education combined with technology-driven, lower-cost online courses that deliver broad access to a wider diversity of students?

The good news is that thanks to advances in online education in recent years, private schools can now cast a much wider net and develop new revenue streams by adding online options to their institutional menu.

Here are five traits of online education that you as a high school administrator can successfully apply to private education, giving your school an edge when competing for students in our high-tech age.

Trait #1: Flexibility

Online schools excel at offering students a more flexible learning environment that fits into their schedules and allows them to create a lifestyle that fuses education with part-time jobs, sports, music, volunteering, and social activities.

Let’s face it: One of the biggest problems with traditional schools is that they force students into a cookie-cutter schedule that may not be best for them. Some teens are fine waking up early and finishing school by mid-afternoon. For others, though, the standard schedule may not be optimal for learning—and in fact may be detrimental.

And beyond allowing students to customize a schedule that’s most natural for them, online schools also move beyond the confines of the traditional school year and allow students greater flexibility to take less disruptive breaks that work best with individual, family, and religious needs.

What this means for your school: Private schools that offer online options will attract nontraditional students who need greater freedom to juggle jobs and other important activities—enhancing your school’s bottom line with a steady stream of highly motivated students who will greatly benefit from a private school education.

Trait #2: Benefits to at-risk students

For many at-risk students from troubled and disadvantaged backgrounds, online schools offer unparalleled opportunities for quality interaction with teachers that significantly improve learning outcomes and positively impact lives. Here, students learn from teachers who are experienced with independent study and offer consistent contact and personal instruction.

Beyond this, students in online schools often benefit from one-on-one attention, lower teacher-pupil ratios, and 24/7 access to teachers—giving overlooked students a chance to shine and gain confidence.

Better yet, online schools are more accessible to economically disadvantaged students because courses cost less and don’t involve commuting costs like gas, parking, car maintenance, or public transportation expenses.

What this means for your school: By offering lower-cost online courses, private schools can attract at-risk students who otherwise have no access to a private school education—and who enrich the learning environment through their diverse experiences and perspectives.

Trait #3: Better learning environment

Studies show that many students say they prefer an online learning environment to a traditional school setting. Why? Because while many students thrive in group-oriented classrooms, others are easily distracted by fellow students or experience social anxieties or even bullying. For them, online education is a better fit and offers a safe, comfortable, and nurturing learning environment that produces improved learning outcomes. The customized nature of online learning often benefits athletes, artists, musicians, and students with special needs who can often struggle in rigid classroom settings.

What this means for your school: Private schools that expand into online offerings will attract gifted and differently abled students who march to the beat of a different drummer and would benefit from a high-quality, distraction-free private education.  

Trait #4: Self-paced learning

One of the biggest challenges for teachers in traditional classroom settings is the fact that not all students learn at the same pace. While some students are fine with learning at the pace dictated by the school, others think it’s either too slow to be challenging or too fast to keep up.

In online programs, students work closely with their teachers to create the pace that works best for them. On topics they excel in, students can breeze ahead and stay engaged. On more difficult subjects, students can take their time and make sure they learn the basics before moving on.

What this means for your school: While private schools often excel at being able to customize learning pace for students that need it, adding online courses into the mix encourages parents with students who struggle with traditional classroom pace to consider the double advantage of self-paced online learning coupled with a high-quality, private school education.  

Trait #5: Early graduation and college prep

One major advantage for online education is that it offers students opportunities to network with like-minded peers around the country or even overseas. These collaborations better prepare students for college and offer invaluable exposure to students from other backgrounds and cultures.

Even better, online education gives students access to accelerated courses in specialized areas that may not be available in a traditional setting and allow them to graduate early—and be ahead of the curve for college admissions.

What this means for your school: Combining the early graduation and college prep advantages of online learning with the inherent strengths of private schools in these same areas is a win-win for administrators—who can easily leverage these synergies to produce students who are well-prepared for college through either the classroom pathway or through online coursework.

The bottom line

With advances in technology and teaching, it’s no surprise that online education has grown rapidly in the last two decades and gained mainstream acceptance. Online education offers greater control of learning environments and help students customize their education in ways that produce better outcomes for students who may not do as well in a traditional setting.

Given that private schools often have the resources to more quickly adopt new technologies and implement best practices in education, administrators should seriously consider the added benefits of incorporating online education into their curricula—and developing additional revenue streams from a larger and more diversified student body.

About the Author:

Content marketer, researcher, and public policy wonk by day. Away from the office, he's a polyglot geography nerd with a thing for UNESCO World Heritage Sites. So far, all 50 U.S. states and 44 countries have been checked off the list—and counting.

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