Annual Survey Provides Snapshot of Online Education

If there’s a silver lining to the bad economy … and couldn’t we all use some good economic news about now … consider the results of an annual survey on online education. Staying the Course: Online Education in the United States, 2008 reports that higher education institutions believe that the economic changes will have a positive impact on overall college enrollments, with online courses and programs for working adults seeing the greatest interest.

Now in its sixth year, the recently released report is based on responses from more than 2,500 colleges and universities. It is a collaborative effort between the Babson Survey Research Group, the College Board and the Sloan Consortium and supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

“Bad economic times have often been good for education, either because decreased availability of good jobs encourages more people to seek education instead, or because those currently employed seek to improve their chances for advancement by pursuing their education,” according to the report. “Higher education institutions believe that the rising unemployment rates currently being experienced will, once again, lead to enrollment increases.”

Other results of Staying the Course: Online Education in the United States, 2008 provide a glimpse at just how many students are learning online. The report found that more than 3.9 million students were taking at least one online course during the fall 2007 term; an increase of over 12 percent when compared to the number reported the previous year. All told, over 20 percent of all U.S. higher education students were taking at least one online course in the fall of 2007.

In addition, the survey posed a series of questions about motivations for teaching online. There was broad agreement between a sample of faculty who teach online and chief academic officers, with one important difference. While chief academic officers rate the motivation of additional income second on their list, online teaching faculty place it fifth – just ahead of “for pedagogical advantages” and “because they are required to.”

In an online seminar recorded earlier this year, Philip DiSalvio, assistant provost and director of SetonWorldWide at Seton Hall University, addresses the issue of faculty incentive policies for online instructors. More information on Aligning Faculty Incentives with Shifting Modes of Delivery is available here.

The complete report, Staying the Course: Online Education in the United States, is available for download from the Sloan-C website.