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The posting below documents the phenomenal growth of online courses over the last decade. It is from Chapter One, Setting the Stage: The Transformation, in the book, Supporting Online Students: A Guide to Planning, Implementing, and Evaluating Services, by Anita Crawley. Published by Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Imprint. One Montgomery Street, Suite 1200, San Francisco, CA 94104-4594 [www.josseybass.com] Copyright © 2012 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
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Growth of Online Learning
Online learning has grown exponentially during the first decade of the twenty-first century. For eight years (2003-2010), the Sloan Consortium conducted a nationwide survey that tracks the growth and nature of online learning. During the fall of 2009, 5.6 million students, representing 29% of the total college and university enrollment, took at least one online course. This number of students represents an increase of 21% over the previous year, the largest annual increase in the eight years of the survey. Especially noteworthy is that this large increase occurred when overall enrollment growth in higher education was less than 2% (Allen & Seaman, 2010).
The largest colleges and universities have more online students than any other type of institution. Colleges and universities with a total enrollment of 15,000 or more students represent 14% of all institutions with online offerings. However, they educate 67% of all online students. The smallest institutions represent 18% of all institutions; however, their online offerings educate only 2% of online students. The trend is that online students are concentrated in a relatively small number of large colleges and universities (Allen & Seaman, 2010).
Most growth is from institutions that are already offering online courses and programs and that are also the largest colleges and universities. They were the first to offer online courses, have been the most invested, and have grown the fastest. A few schools, around 5% or about 250 institutions that responded to the Sloan Survey, do not currently offer online courses, but even these schools are planning to develop online courses. These tend to be the smallest schools that may view online courses as supplemental and narrowly targeted for a niche market (Allen & Seaman, 2010).
Community colleges have experience significant growth in online courses and programs as shown by the two annual reports that track online learning growth in this sector. The Instructional Technology Council (ITC) reports a 22% online enrollment increase during fall 2009 over the previous year (Trends in Elearning: Tracking the Impact of Elearning at Community Colleges, 2010). In the second report, the Survey of Community College Presidents, 87% of participants reported gains in online student enrollment, and 54% reported gains in the number of online degree programs (Green, 2010b). Adult students returning to college are interested in enrolling at institutions that offer fully online degrees or certificates (Jaggars, 2011). Particularly significant is the growth of online degree programs at community colleges.
The greatest growth in online programs comes primarily from private, for-profit institutions. American Public University System is the largest institution, with 77,700 a 31% increase from 2009 to 2010. Bridgeport Education follows with 77,100, a 40% increase during the same period. UMassOnline, a public, not-for-profit institution, experienced a 14.5% growth to 45,800, Walden University with a 13% increase grew to 45,600, and Liberty University grew 24% to 45,000. These numbers represent full-time online enrollment. The top institutions for part-time online enrollments are University of Phoenix Online, State University of New York Learning Network, the Ohio Learning Network, Kaplan University, and DeVry (Nagel, 2011). Nonprofit public institutions feel the competition for students most keenly from for-profit institutions (Allen & Seaman, 2010). This competition factor results in online enrollment growth in both for-profit and large public institutions. From all indications, the interest in online learning will continue to grow.
Many reasons account for the increasing growth of online courses and programs. Green (2010c) states that colleges and universities are motivated to develop and grow their online programs because they can attract more students at a lower cost. Forty-two percent of the ITC Survey participants identified the economic downturn as a reason for recent growth in online learning at community colleges (Trends in Elearning: Tracking the Impact of Elearning at Community Colleges, 2010). From the last two Sloan surveys, 54% of the respondents in 2009 and 75% in 2010 identified the economic downturn as a reason for the increased demand for online courses and programs (Allen & Seaman, 2010). As the economy improves, some predict a possible decline in online enrollments.
Frequently, reports cite student demand as a reason for institutions to develop or increase online course and program offerings. Because of the economic downturn, students themselves are asking for more online courses. In their view, they save money when they do not drive to campus, and they are still able to maintain their work schedule while completing their educational goals (Green, 2010c). In the report Distance Education at Degree-Granting Postsecondary Institutions: 2006-2007 (Parsad, Lewis, & Tice, 2006), 68% of the colleges and universities responded that they implemented or expanded distance learning programs to meet student demand.
Regarding community colleges in particular, 67% want to expand student access, 46% want to increase the number of course offerings, and 45% want to increase student enrollment (Trends in Elearning: Tracking the Impact of Elearning at Community Colleges, 2010). For community college presidents, student demand is the number one reason for increasing online offerings (Green, 2010b).
Institutions see little indication that student interest in online learning will subside, especially when the governor of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities announce statewide initiatives that 25% of college credits would be offered online by 2015 to save tax dollars and to reach more students. The same announcement reported that students who earn the ACHIEVE scholarship in Minnesota would be given a $150 bonus if they complete an online course while in high school (Young, 2008).
In the 2010 Campus Computing Survey, Green (2010c) identified two other reasons for persistent growth in online learning. Because institutions have been delivering online programs for more than a decade, newer programs can be up and running more rapidly by using established programs as models. Green also stated that technologies that support online learning are more reliable and robust than they were a decade ago. Because these enhanced technologies provide students and faculty with a smoother online teaching and learning experience, institutions are more likely to begin or expand online programs. As institutions increase their use of technology in the classroom, that increased usage may lead to growth in web-enhanced, blended, and eventually fully online courses and programs. It appears that online courses and programs will continue to grow, at least in the near future.
Allen, I.E., & Seaman, J. (2010). Class Differences: Online Education in the United States, 2010. Newburyport, MA: Babson Survey Research Group and The Sloan Consortium
Green, K. C. (2010b). Survey of Community College Presidents. Encino, CA: The Campus Computing Project. Retrieved from http://www.campuscomputing.net/survey/community-colleges
Green, K. C. (2010c). The Campus Computing Survey. Encino, CA: The Campus Computing Project. Retrieved from http://www.campuscomputing.net/2010-campus-computing-survey
Jaggars, S. S. (2011). Online Learning: Does It Help Low-Income and Underprepared Students (No. 52). Community College Research Center: Columbia University, Teachers College.
Nagel, D. (2011, January 26). Online learning set for explosive growth as traditional classrooms decline. Campus Technology. Retrieved from http://campustechnology.com/articles/2011/01/26/online-learning-set-for-explosive-growth-as-traditional-classrooms-decline.aspx
Parsad, B., Lewis, L., & Tice, P. (2006). Distance Education at Degree-Granting Postsecondary Institutions: 2006-07 (No. NCES 2009044). Washington DC: National Center for Educational Statistics.
Young, J. (2008, November 20). Minnesota state colleges plan to offer one-fourth of credits online by 2015. The Chronicle of Higher Education.