Higher Education

Enrollment in online courses rises, but their importance to academic chiefs wanes

Rise in online learning shifts from private for-profit to private nonprofit schools

The number of students in online courses continues to rise, even as higher-education enrollment is declining—but enthusiasm for them appears to be waning slightly among some university leaders, according to an annual survey.

About 63 percent of chief academic officers consider the likes of massive open online courses, or MOOCS, to be critical to their institutions’ long-term strategies, down from 71 percent last year, the survey, by the Babson Survey Research Group, found.

Twenty-nine percent say the outcomes are inferior to those of face-to-face instruction, up from 26 percent the year before.

Nor are faculty growing more persuaded of the worth of online education. Only 29 percent of academic leaders say their faculty accept the “value and legitimacy” of online courses, a figure that has remained generally flat.

This isn’t stopping students from enrolling in them. The number taking one or more online course grew 3.9 percent in 2014, the period covered by the survey—slightly higher than last year’s rate of increase of 3.7 percent. More than a quarter of all students, or 5.8 million, took one or more online courses that year.

Private, for-profit universities and colleges, which largely pioneered so-called distance learning but whose enrollment overall has plummeted, saw their number of online students also fall, by nearly 3 percent. But that was offset by a rise in online enrollment of more than 11 percent at private, nonprofit institutions.

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Jon Marcus

Jon Marcus, higher-education editor, has written about higher education for the Washington Post, USA Today, Time, the Boston Globe, Washington Monthly, is North America higher-education… See Archive