2010 November 17 Wednesday
Online Education Continues Rapid Growth

A new report from the Sloan Consortium finds online education continues its rapid growth.

The 2010 Sloan Survey of Online Learning reveals that enrollment rose by almost one million students from a year earlier. The survey of more than 2,500 colleges and universities nationwide finds approximately 5.6 million students were enrolled in at least one online course in fall 2009, the most recent term for which figures are available.

That's a 21% growth rate in one year. I can see a Peak Bricks-And-Mortar Enrollment approaching. Will as many people be sitting in classrooms 10 years from now? I seriously doubt it.

“This represents the largest ever year-to-year increase in the number of students studying online,” said study co-author I Elaine Allen, Co-Director of the Babson Survey Research Group and Professor of Statistics & Entrepreneurship at Babson College. “Nearly thirty percent of all college and university students now take at least one course online.”  She adds:

If the current growth rate continues for just 3 more years then over half of all students will take at least one course online. The financial pressures on big public universities and community colleges will increase the appeal of lower cost online courses.

"There may be some clouds on the horizon.  While the sluggish economy continues to drive enrollment growth, large public institutions are feeling budget pressure and competition from the for-profit sector institutions.  In addition, the for-profit schools worry new federal rules on financial aid and student recruiting may have a negative impact on enrollments.”

Indications for online learning all seem promising.

  • Almost two-thirds of for-profit institutions now say that online learning is a critical part of their long term strategy.
  • The 21%growth rate for online enrollments far exceeds the 2% growth in the overall higher education student population.
  • Nearly one-half of institutions report that the economic downturn has increased demand for face-to-face courses and programs.
  • Three-quarters of institutions report that the economic downturn has increased demand for online courses and programs.

I am reminded of Clay Shirky's writings on the collapse of the business models for newspapers and magazines. See here, here, and here. Could the same thing happen to universities?

The university prestige racket has become too expensive. Technology is opening up the door for cheaper ways to deliver education. The taxpayers are balking at high spending for higher education. I see the high costs of conventional universities colliding with cheap internet course delivery, incorporation of learning research results into software, the enormous convenience of online information and, last but not least, impoverished governments running large deficits and faced with unfunded old age entitlements. The universities are going to come out losers.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2010 November 17 10:04 PM  Education Online


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