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Online Enrollment Growth Slows, But Still Outpaces Brick-and-Mortar

2014 Survey of Online Learning

The number of higher education students taking at least one online course in 2014 is up 3.7 percent over the previous year — the slowest rate of increase in over a decade, according to a new survey from the Babson Survey Research Group co-sponsored by the Online Learning Consortium (OLC), Pearson and Tyton Partners. However, "While the rapid pace of online learning growth has moderated, it still accounts for nearly three-quarters of all U.S. higher education's enrollment increases last year," said study co-author Jeff Seaman, co-director of the Babson Survey Research Group, in a press release.

More than 70 percent of academic leaders reported that online learning is critical to their long-term strategy, yet concerns persist among faculty. Only 28 percent of respondents said that their faculty accept the "value and legitimacy of online education."

"While the number of students taking online courses has grown by the millions over the past decade, it has not come without considerable concerns," said survey co-author I. Elaine Allen in a press release. "Faculty acceptance has lagged, concerns about student retention linger and leaders continue to worry that online courses require more faculty effort than does face-to-face instruction."

Additional findings include:

  • Public and private nonprofit institutions recorded distance enrollment growth, but these were offset by a decrease among for-profit institutions.
  • New federal data shows 5,257,379 students now taking one or more distance education courses, an increase of 189,187.
  • The percent of academic leaders rating the learning outcomes in online education as the same or superior to those in face-to-face remained unchanged at 74.1 percent.
  • The adoption of massive open online courses is reaching a plateau: Only 8 percent of higher education institutions currently offer one; another 5.6 percent report MOOCs are in the planning stages.
  • The proportion of academic leaders who believe that MOOCs represent a sustainable method for offering online courses dropped to 18.7 percent.

The 2014 Survey of Online Learning canvassed more than 2,800 academic leaders from active, degree-granting institutions of higher education in the United States that are open to the public. The complete report is available at the OLC site.

About the Author

About the author: Rhea Kelly is editor in chief for Campus Technology. She can be reached at [email protected].

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