WHAT WE'RE READING
The ASU report also assessed the impact of a variety of online learning formats, and looked at the implementation factors that make programs work at scale. The report includes case studies that the Action Lab team determined are six exemplar institutions in the digital learning field, with analysis of those models for institutions to learn from.
"This is a particularly timely subject, because we've been around for 20 years in online ... and it hasn't been until the last six to eight years or so it's really developed this level of competency where institutions are taking full advantage of creating a digital medium to reach new populations that we are no trying to serve," explained Pugliese.
The appeal of online education parallels an industry trend of growth in nontraditional students seeking faster, more flexible credentialing options. But while online enrollment may be going up across the board, retaining students in programs is a different kind of challenge.
Statistics from two Babson Survey Research Group reports, "Distance Education Enrollment Report 2017" and "Grade Increase: Tracking Distance Education in the United States," show schools with some of the largest online programs — as well as institutions that are entirely online — have seen substantial drops in enrollment between 2015 and 2016. For instance, two for-profit institutions had significant drops in online student enrollment. The University of Phoenix saw a decline in about 30,000 online students, down from a total of 162,003 in 2015, while Kaplan saw a decline of about 8,000, down from 45,268 in 2015.
Don’t count boot camps out just yet. The last year or so was rough for the short-term skills training programs, with high-profile closures and some bad PR. But the nascent boot-camp industry is growing, as established players like General Assembly, Galvanize and the Flatiron School expand into new markets while also influencing traditional higher education.
For example, the online program management company 2U announced this month that it is paying $13 million to lease an online learning platform from the Flatiron School as part of a high-profile deal with WeWork, the co-working space giant. Going forward, 2U plans to use Flatiron’s Learn.co for its online degree programs, which include many graduate school offerings from selective universities. In an interview, Chip Paucek, 2U’s CEO and cofounder, raved about the potential of Flatiron’s online learning tools, describing the acquisition of Learn.co as being an important step in 2U’s evolution. “We believe that this becomes the future of the learning platform,” Paucek said. “We’re going to offer all our courses through it.”
During a recent assembly at the elementary school my two daughters attend, a visitor asked how many children planned to go to college. Nearly every hand in the room shot up.
Colleges better hope those kids were being honest because, a decade from now when they are applying to school, the outlook for enrollment in higher education is dire. The number of high school graduates nationwide is projected to remain relatively flat for the next several years before rising a bit in the middle of next decade. But between 2026 and 2031 — a period of graduating classes that includes both of my daughters — the ranks of high school graduates are expected to drop by 9 percent.
Beyond the overall numbers shifting, high school graduating classes will become more diverse. Those classes will have fewer white students and more Hispanic students, according to demographers, and a greater range of academic abilities. Family incomes remain stagnant, so student financial need will increase. In other words, the decade ahead will be tumultuous for college enrollment.
Faculty buy-in for university initiatives is a key component of effective implementation when it comes to technology or plan adoption. That's why when the word "productivity" used to assess faculty, it can lead to potentially difficult situations, said James Ball, president of Carroll Community College.
“If we used the word ‘productivity’ with faculty, if we used the word ‘throughput’ with faculty, we were going to be in big trouble,” said Ball. “Those are difficult conversations to have on campus. Everyone starts to get a little paranoid about ‘am I going to have a job?,’ and though they won’t come out and tell you that, that’s what’s in the back of their minds.”
The goal of every postsecondary institution is to educate its students. In order to do that with an online population though, the primary focus must first be relationship building.
Student engagement is just as important, if not more so, with online delivery than with in-seat classes. Without the usual physical and verbal cues that come with a face-to-face class meeting, it is difficult to take the pulse of each student and his or her response to course content. With a lack of direct personal contact, what should student engagement look like? Generally speaking, active interaction with the instructor and fellow students and significant involvement demonstrated by the frequency and timeliness of interaction, as well as the quality of work submitted, will provide the best indication of student engagement.
Built-in barriers that prevent active student participation in online classes occur in generally two areas: social and organizational/technical.