Distance learning is not a new subject, but recently it has come in vogue again. With the advent of new educational and training technologies augmented by the Internet, distance learning is a viable option in meeting the needs of today's learning-hungry, but time-pressed students. The growing amount of literature on Internet instruction has examined several questions, including course design (Porter 1997, Cooper 2000), student and faculty assessment (Ryan 2000, White 2000), and quality control (Lezberg 1998, Terry 2000). However, few articles have addressed the important issues of enrollment and attrition. The purpose of this paper is to examine enrollment and attrition rates associated with online courses, based on the experience of a regional MBA program that has been offering instruction over the Internet for three years.
In many ways the college in this study, West Texas A&M University (WT), is a typical example of a mid-sized college. It is the primary source of university education, research, and service for its region. Annual student enrollment is approximately 6,500. The Texas panhandle region has a relatively low population density, making the campus an ideal school for Internet instruction. For this reason, the University has been encouraged to act as a pioneer school in online education for the Texas A&M University System. The College of Business is an accredited member of the Association of Collegiate Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP). In 1997, the College of Business initiated an Internet-based option in portions of their MBA program. The 200 students in the program can complete all essential courses on campus and/or in the Internet mode. Students enrolled in an online course are assessed a nominal distance education fee of $75 to recoup some of the costs of technical support, but all other tuition fees are the same across the two instructional modes. To date, 15 different graduate business courses have been offered on the Internet. During the spring of 2000, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) positively reviewed the online business program at WT.
This study focuses on enrollment and attrition rates for the 15 graduate business courses offered on campus and over the Internet during the past three years. The business disciplines covered include accounting, economics, finance, business statistics, computer information systems, management and marketing. All 15 courses were offered at least once in both the campus- and Internet-based formats during the study period, and the same professor taught each course, regardless of instruction mode. Every effort is made to provide consistent methods, procedures, and materials in both the traditional and Internet-based instruction formats. Learning materials, including textbook information, detailed lecture notes, and supporting articles, are distributed in class or posted on the course Web site, depending on instruction mode. For the purpose of this study, enrollment and attrition rates are calculated on the basis of the first class day instead of the traditional twelfth class day, because the primary objective is to assess enrollment and retention for online courses. Hence, the enrollment and attrition rates presented in the next section are higher than the official twelfth class day numbers, but capture all students interested in online courses, even those deciding to drop the course within the first two weeks of instruction.
Enrollment and Attrition Rates for Online Courses
Bringing education to students via the Internet has the potential to benefit students and significantly increase the enrollment of an institution. Student benefits associated with Internet instruction include increased access to higher education, flexible location, individualized attention from the instructor, less travel, and increased time to respond to questions posed by the instructor (Matthews 1999). The increase in educational access and convenience to the student should benefit the enrollment of an institution by tapping the time- and geographically-constrained learner. …