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The Babson Survey: State of Online Education


March 10, 2016 by admin

Babson SurveyThe good news for online education, according to the recently released 2015 Babson survey, is directly related to the bad news regarding overall enrollments in colleges and universities. More specifically, the Babson survey on the state of online education now in its thirteenth and final year, reports enrollments are down overall, but enrollments in online programs are up. The report states that more than 5.8 million individuals have taken at least 1 online course. Those enrollments represent growth of 1.2 percent between 2012 and 2013. And, over 2.8 million students are taking classes exclusively online.

Growth at Public and Private Colleges

Much of the growth in online education is taking place at public and private colleges; however, for-profit universities have seen a rather significant drop off in student enrollments. We are all aware of issues surrounding for-profit universities, and it looks as though those issues are taking a toll on enrollments. It is significant, however, that according to the Babson Survey, 67% of distance education students are enrolled in public institutions. Granted, most students attend public institutions, But, this finding suggests, in my opinion, a bifurcation is taking place in which 5% of the institutions of higher learning—large public universities–account for more that 50 percent of the online education.

Online Education and Long-term Strategy

This fact is amplified when you consider that while the majority of administrators view online education as a critical part of their long-term strategy, the percentage has decreased year over year. Paradoxically, the success of online education apparently does not encourage either public and private higher education administrators or faculty to love online education. Furthermore, for institutions that don’t presently offer any online courses or programs, online education is not viewed as central to their strategic planning. What this suggests is that large public institutions where much of the online education is taking place, have recognized the value of distance learning for their institutions. For other institutions—smaller colleges and universities with no online programs at present—the percentage of administrators who believe online education should be a part of the institution’s long-term strategy took a steep dive.

Babson Survey Points to Blended Courses

Perhaps the greatest opportunity in online education isn’t online at all. Rather, according to the Babson survey, over three times as many of the survey’s respondents agree that blended courses “offer more promise” than disagree. It may be that one way for an institution to grow toward online offerings is to encourage instructors to offer hybrid and blended classes. In this way faculty become more effective users of technologies that are applicable to both online, blended and hybrid teaching. As the use of technology among younger and more tech savvy faculty becomes “normalized,” perhaps more institutions as a result will build online programs. As we emphasize in Best Practices in Online Education Program Development, most online programs begin ad hoc, suggesting that faculty may be more motivated to create online courses and programs as a result of their experiences in blended and hybrid courses, which in turn may encourage administrators to see the value in having online courses and programs as part of their long-term strategy.

The report is rich with important findings regarding various aspects of online education: MOOCs, online vs. face-to-face, distance vs. time shifting, among many others. You can download a copy of the report here.

Neil Alperstein, PhD



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