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Expect Challenges with Online Programs with Repeal of Net Neutrality

As online programming continues to grow in higher ed, so does the competition. In this heated environment, turnover is fast. Seventeen of the top 50 institutions with the largest online enrollments in 2012 were outpaced by other institutions within the subsequent three years, according to a new report by U.S. higher education consultancy Hanover Research. More than two-thirds of schools have created a dedicated online education leader role, such as the chief online education officer. And prospective students are getting pickier: Universities, including George Washington and Eastern Michigan, have been criticized by students and faculty over the quality of their online programs.

On top of those issues, the disregard for net neutrality voted into reality by current White House appointees may inspire commercial internet service providers to charge colleges and universities more to deliver their bandwidth-hungry videos, simulations and interactive programs to students. And that would add additional pressure to fiscal management of online programs.

"Online programming has moved from the periphery to become a staple of modern higher education curriculum, and it is presenting new and complex challenges for colleges and universities. Schools are engaged in intense competition for online students, and these students expect quality programming and institutional responsiveness equivalent to what they would experience on campus," Amir Rasool, managing director of higher ed for Hanover, told Campus Technology. "While institutions continue to raise the bar in online programming, one potential disruptor to their success is the repeal of net neutrality. Universities and students alike depend on affordable, reliable internet access for online course delivery, which commonly involves high-bandwidth features like videos and interactive modules. Following the official repeal of net neutrality, subsequent actions taken by internet providers could make online programming more costly and the experience less favorable, for institutions and their students."

But online programming is just one of the major challenges hitting the higher education sector right now, according to the report. Based on analyst conversations with marketing directors, financial officers, deans and provosts and others in college leadership roles, the "Trends in Higher Ed 2018" report details six issues currently impacting schools. Besides the issue of online programming "going mainstream," the other challenges include:

  • Shrinking enrollment;
  • Skepticism on the value of higher ed;
  • Unsustainable tuition strategies;
  • A greater need for developing a stable donor base; and
  • Reaching Generation Z with effective marketing.

The report shared relevant data from external sources as well as its own and offered broad strategies for countering the challenges. For example, Gen Z student applicants, characterized as being realists "focused on the now" and preferring Snapchat and Instagram to Twitter, will require a "multi-channel" approach to marketing that includes "social, search, e-mail, direct mail [and] live."

Among the 1,000 research projects that Hanover undertook on behalf of its clients during the previous year, nearly six in 10 (58 percent) were tied to academic development. And 55 percent of those were feasibility studies to understand the market demand, competition and employer outlook for new program offerings. Among the most popular areas under consideration: business, marketing and management; those accounted for 22 percent of all studies. Education and health were also popular, the report noted, covering 18 percent and 13 percent, respectively.

The report is available with registration on the Hanover Research website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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