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Online Education: Budgets, Leadership Changes Drive Restructuring

The vast majority of online program managers claimed in a recent survey that faculty resistance is a significant hindrance to the expansion of their online education programs.

Forty-four percent of colleges and universities in the United States have restructured their online education programs in the last two years. And, according to new research, 59 percent will restructure them in the coming two years.

What's more, the research found that of organizations that have already restructured, 30 percent expect to do so again within the next two years.

The findings were part of a report on higher ed distance learning, called "Managing Online Education Programs: The 2010 WCET-Campus Computing Project Survey, conducted by the Campus Computing Project and the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Telecommunications (WCET). If the report will be released in its full form in December. Findings from the research are being presented Friday at the 2010 WCET Conference in La Jolla, CA.

For the report, researchers interviewed representatives from 183 institutions, including 68 public community colleges and 37 universities, among others. Those surveyed were senior campus leaders responsible for managing online programs.

Leadership and Budgets: Factors for Restructuring
So what's driving so much restructuring? Participants cited several factors, though changes in leadership at various levels seemed to be the dominant theme.

Thirty-five percent cited changes in institutional leadership; 29 percent cited changes in senior program managers; and 27 percent cited centralizing management of online education.

But these weren't the only factors driving change.

Most (59 percent) cited budget issues, while 38 percent also cited coordination of instructional resources as factors.

And just who is currently leading operations for online programs? According to the researchers:

  • CIOs: 42 percent
  • Provosts: 19 percent
  • Vice presidents and deans or continuing education: 18 percent
  • Associate and assistant vice presidents: 15 percent
  • Other institutional officers: 4 percent
  • Presidents: 1 percent

Profitability, Growth, and Faculty Resistance
These leaders said for the most part that their online programs are profitable (44 percent) or operating at a break-even level (9 percent).

But the vast majority of survey participants (73 percent) said the believe strongly that faculty resistance to teaching online is hindering further expansion of online education programs.

It should be noted, however, that a full 45 percent did not know whether their programs were profitable or not. And only 1 percent said their programs were operating at a loss. And despite purported resistance, 91 percent said enrollments in their online programs has increased over the last three years, with more than half (52 percent) saying those enrollments have increased by at least 16 percent. And 96 percent said they expect continued growth over the next three years.

For those faculty members who do teach online, according to the survey, 51 percent of institutions require training, with the average training taking 22 hours.

"The survey data highlight a key difference between on-campus and online courses," says Kenneth C. Green, founding director of the Campus Computing Project, in a statement released to coincide with the report. "In contrast to their peers in traditional classrooms, both part-time and full-time faculty who teach online courses often must complete significant, specialized training."

"Mandatory training for faculty who teach online courses reflects an institutional awareness that the online environment is different," says Ellen Wagner, executive director of WCET, also in a prepared statement. "The all-too-common--and unfortunate--practice of hiring part-timers and handing them a syllabus, textbook, campus map, and parking pass will not suffice for faculty who teach online courses."

Some other significant findings from the report included:

  • Many (17 percent) reported "no institutional policy or procedure for ADA compliance" for their online programs, while 34 percent said responsibility for ADA compliance resides with individual faculty members and 24 percent with academic departments;
  • Of those who said they expect growth in the next few years, 30 percent said they expect that growth to to be in the 16 percent to 20 percent range, while 13 percent said they expect growth greater than 20 percent;
  • 16 percent of campuses reported they provide tech support to students enrolled in online programs during business hours (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.); 20 percent provide extended evening tech support; 32 percent provide it during both evenings and weekends; and 33 percent offer tech support all day every day.

Further information about the research can be found on the Campus Computing Project site here. The complete 2010 report will be available beginning Dec. 10 here.

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