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Report: Online Enrollment Growth Slows

More than 7.1 million students took at least one online course at a higher education institution in fall of 2012, according to a new report, Grade Change: Tracking Online Education in the United States, 2013. The 6.1 percent growth rate is the slowest recorded in the decade-long history of the report series, but still represents an increase of 411,000 students over numbers from the previous year.

"While the rate of growth in online enrollments has moderated over the past several years, it still greatly exceeds the growth in overall higher education enrollments," said Study Co-Author I. Elaine Allen, co-director of the Babson Survey Research Group, in a prepared startement.

The number of respondents who told researchers that the learning outcomes for online courses are the same or superior to those of face-to-face classes is down, to 74.1 from 77 percent, from last year's survey. "The proportion of chief academic leaders that say online learning is critical to their long-term strategy" also fell, according to a news release, "from 69.1 percent to 65.9 percent."

The number of respondents who said online learning outcomes are inferior rose from 23 to 26 percent, though leaders from institutions with online programs remained positive and "all of the" shift "can be attributed to leaders at institutions without online offerings becoming more negative," according to the report.

But the outlook for online learning isn't all bad, according to the report. Approximately one third, 33 percent, of higher ed students currently take at least one online course, and 90 percent of academic leaders surveyed said they believe it is likely or very likely that a majority of all higher ed students will do so within five years.

Other key findings of the report include:

  • The percentage of chief academic officers who told surveyors that online learning is key to their long-term strategy dropped to 65.9 percent from 69.1 percent last year;
  • Five percent of higher ed institutions represented in the survey currently offer a massive open online course (MOOC), up from 2.6 in the previous year, and another 9.3 percent said they are planning one;
  • A bare majority, 53 percent, of institutions represented by the survey said they are undecided about MOOCs and 33 percent said they have no plans for one;
  • Less than 25 percent of respondents said MOOCs are "a sustainable method for offering online courses," according to a news release;
  • The number of respondents who said they are concerned that MOOC credentials will cause confusion about higher education degrees rose 9 percent over the year to 64 percent; and
  • "Two-thirds of chief academic officers believe that there will be substantial use of student-directed, self-paced components in future online courses," according to the report.

Conducted by the Babson Survey Research Group, the survey includes 2,831 responses representing 81 percent of higher ed enrollments, according to information in the report.

To access the full report, visit sloanconsortium.org.

About the Author

Joshua Bolkan is the multimedia editor for Campus Technology and THE Journal. He can be reached at jbolkan@1105media.com.

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