Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

College on Demand

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

College on Demand

Article excerpt

As the economy continues to stagger, universities are forced to respond to increasing numbers of students knocking at their virtual doors in search of online classes.

Today's tough economy has more people not only choosing college as a viable option, but also seeking to study online.

Sixty-six percent of institutions surveyed cite an increased demand for new online courses and programs and 73 percent see more demand for existing online courses and programs, according to "Learning on Demand: Online Education in the U.S. 2009," an annual survey by the Sloan Consortium, which tracks online learning trends. Released in January, the survey captured the responses of more than 2,500 colleges and universities.

Undergraduate students overwhelmingly are driving the demand for online education, according to the survey. In fall 2008, there were 4.6 million online students, a 17 percent increase from the year before. The long-term growth from fall 2002 to fall 2008 is even more significant. In fall 2002, there were only 1.6 million students taking at least one online course. While the overall higher education student body grew at an annual rate of around 1.5 percent during this period, the increase in online students represents a compound annual growth rate of 19 percent.

"The Sloan numbers provide a good idea of what's going on in undergraduate education," says Dr. Janet K. Poley, president and CEO of the American Distance Education Consortium, a nonprofit organization composed of approximately 65 state universities and land-grant colleges. "My sense is that the demand will continue to go up. I don't think we will ever see purely face-to-face instruction only."

Basic math helps explain some of the interest in online courses. High fuel costs, high unemployment rates, scheduling flexibility, and easy accessi büi ty are driving factors as students, workers, and the unemployed all seek ways to make themselves more marketable.

"More people have to work and go to school with varying time pressures," says Poley. "The economy is driving the trend because people need to work. Lots of people are retooling their skills and are not in the position to come to campus."

According to the U.S. Labor Department, the jobless rate was 9.7 percent in January.

As the economic challenges worsen, public universities are seeing more people knocking at their virtual doors in search of online classes. Nearly all of the chief academic officers at public institutions participating in the Sloan survey - 87 percent - reported that the economic downturn has increased demand for their existing online courses and programs.

Additionally, according to the Sloan report, public institutions are by far most likely to believe that online education is key to their long-term strategy. It's what brought Arizona State University, an academic powerhouse with 68,000 students, online.

Tamara Popovich, assistant director of Academic Services at ASU Online, says ASU's entree into online course offerings is driven by a strategic plan to remain competitive.

"The private sector online serves a niche, but we think we can get some of their students. We weren't previously meeting that need of being flexible and being online. Now we are," says Popovich. A relative newcomer to online course offering, ASU began offering courses a few years ago; the bulk of its omine programs went live just last year.

While only 3,000 ASU students are currently taking classes online, Popovich expects that number to increase based on ASU's targeted programs. …

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