Distance Learning

Online Degrees Show 'Net Positive' Campus Impact

Online education is good for the planet and good for the student, according to a new study by sustainability scientists at Arizona State University and Dell. The research found that up to three-quarters of all undergraduate courses at ASU could currently be delivered in an online format and that by 2030, all courses could.

The result of so much delivery of online education has numerous social and environmental benefits, according to the researchers. Student commuting for online students would be eliminated and the amount of construction and use of on-campus facilities would be reduced. Likewise, the use of technology would enable greater numbers of continuing and non-traditional students to gain their undergraduate degrees, thereby enhancing their average lifetime earnings and avoiding "social costs" experienced by people who are unable to complete their degrees.

The overall impact would be a "net positive." To be net positive, the researchers explained, means "to put more back into society and the environment than to take out of it." In this scenario, the ASU model puts forth specific carbon savings of 28 tons and socio-economic benefits of $545,000 per degree.

The research was done by scientists at the institution's Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives with input and financial support from sustainability experts at Dell.

"ASU Online's substantial growth not only increased access to higher education and provided an additional revenue stream to ASU, but also played a key role in the university's sustainability strategy and shows how sustainability permeates through all aspects of an enterprise's programs," said Dan O'Neill, general manager of the Walton Global Sustainability Solutions Services. "This report demonstrates how technology and education merge to affect the triple bottom line of economy, society and environment that defines sustainability practice, a cornerstone to ASU."

ASU Online enrollment data shows that the typical online education student is a 31-year old female, 10 years older than a traditional undergraduate. The researchers suggested that this demographic indicates how online education allows for a greater diversity of people to have access to degrees and greater lifetime earnings. According to the report, some university representatives expect that ASU could hit a half and half mix of 100,000 online campus students and 100,000 face-to-face or "immersive" students between 2025 and 2030. Currently, ASU Online has about 13,000 students and the immersive campus has 70,000.

The full report can be downloaded on ASU's Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives site.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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