Distance Learning

Online Degree Company Dukes It Out with Naysayers

2U wants to nail the coffin shut on certain beliefs that persist in the realm of online degrees in its latest impact report.

For one, the idea that online degree programs are "low quality" doesn't hold up, reported the company, since the institutions that it works with issue the same degrees to their online students as their on-campus students.

For another, the notion that students can't network to the same level as face-to-face programs is disproved, the company said, when universities promote in-person networking experiences and an engaging virtual campus. At the University of North Carolina, for example, the online business school graduating class raised $100,000 to endow a scholarship in the name of a classmate who had passed away during their time in the program.

2U goes into business with institutions to build out new online degree programs, handling much of the work for marketing, recruiting, tech support, customer relationship management and other functions in return for a share of the profits. The universities retain control over accreditation, admissions, financial aid, faculty, curriculum and the delivery of teaching, grading and assessment. Partners include the University of Southern California, Georgetown and Northwestern, among others.

During 2014, the company surveyed 1,241 faculty members in 2U-"enabled" programs and found that 90 percent said they believe the quality of the online courses is "better than or the same as in-person courses" for delivering content that meets learning objectives. During that year schools launched 109 new courses working with 2U and "on-boarded" more than 500 new instructors.

The mean class size for last year was 10.48 students, close to what it was in the previous year. The small size, noted one professor, translates to a class that facilitates more interaction. "You're automatically going to have to be engaged and that's a good thing. You're going to get more out of this class than you are going to get if you're in the back row of a class of 50 people," said Maureen Berner, who teaches at the University of North Carolina at Chapel's School of Government.

This year's report comments on the number of "successful student field placements" or internships facilitated by 2U. The total is 20,493 at about 14,000 different organizations around the world. Those placements are of significance as the organization expands its business in health care and other fields where clinical practice is a requirement.

"The preconceived notions about online education are often quite negative. Our new impact report strives to shatter those preconceived notions, offering proof that 2U-enabled degree programs are having a positive effect on students, faculty and institutions," said 2U's CEO and co-founder, Chip Paucek, in a statement. "Innovations in technology and content delivery are dramatically changing the world of online education, allowing for a learning experience that is just as engaging as the traditional classroom."

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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