Going Local, Even When eLearning
One of the strengths of eLearning is that it allows students to choose from universities not just within commuting distance, but from all over the country and even all over the world. In fact, the large number of options this opens for for many people is such a powerful reason to consider online education that it can obscure the fact that there may sometimes be advantages to staying local.
One of the main reasons that many people have for going back to school is that they'd like to improve their chances of getting a good or better paying job. One of the resources that a school provides is career services. Any school anywhere can help you toilor your resume, teach you to write a good cover letter, and even do mock interviews to help you become more comfortable with the job searching process. But schools that are local have the advantage in that their career counselors know the local market, and can sometimes steer graduates toward particular jobs of which they otherwise may not have been aware.
A related advantage is that a school's alumni association is likely to be the strongest close to campus. That means better professional networking opportunities among fellow graduates, and even just better access to fun events and local discounts.
Another frequently cited advantage of local schools, even for online learners, is that it allows the possibility of taking "hybrid" courses — courses that take place partially on campus, but largely online. This is a mode of instruction that some students prefer, since it retains much of the convenience of online courses while also mixing in a little of the campus experience that some people want. It's also possible to have hybrid courses at schools that are not local, of course, although in that case the course will usually have a one week residence that students will travel to attend. These non-local hybrid courses are most common in graduate school, in fact most online doctoral programs will incorporate this sort of required residency.
Another advantage to going local is that if there's some problem that's difficult to resolve over the phone, like a financial aid discrepancy, a scheduling mistake, or some other unusual situation, it can be more convenient to troop down to campus and deal with school personnel face to face than to try to get everything resolved by email or phone. After all, it's human nature to place the highest priority on helping the person who's right there staring you in the face. A related advantage is that if you stay in the area after graduation, and you want to have a transcript sent quickly, you can visit the registrar's office and ensure that it will be sent for you on the same day.
None of this is meant to suggest that students shouldn't consider universities that are far from home. There are always many different advantages to consider when making a final decision about which school and program may be right for you. But the possible advantages of a school that's close at hand shouldn't be ignored, at least by those who don't intend to move around much.