Faculty Focus


Public and College Leaders Differ Over the Value of Online Courses

The growth of online enrollment during the past 10 years has far outpaced that of higher education enrollment overall, and college presidents expect that trend to continue.

Results from a pair of surveys conducted by Pew Research Center earlier this year show the evolution occurring in higher education today, as well as some disparity between public opinion and that of college presidents when it comes to online education. One of the surveys was of a sample of 2,142 adults ages 18 and older. The other, done in association with the Chronicle of Higher Education, asked questions of presidents at more than 1,000 colleges and universities nationwide.

The findings are detailed in the report The Digital Revolution and Higher Education: College Presidents, Public Differ on Value of Online Learning, released late last month.

Here are a few of the key findings, as outlined in the report’s executive summary:
The Value of Online Learning. The public and college presidents differ over the educational value of online courses. Only 29% of the public says online courses offer an equal value compared with courses taken in a classroom. Half (51%) of the college presidents surveyed say online courses provide the same value.

The Prevalence of Online Courses. More than three-quarters of college presidents (77%) report that their institutions now offer online courses. These courses are more prevalent in some sectors of higher education than in others. While 89% of four-year public colleges and universities offer online classes, just 60% of four-year private schools offer them.

Online Students. Roughly one-in-four college graduates (23%) report that they have taken a class online. However, the share doubles to 46% among those who have graduated in the past ten years. Among all adults who have taken a class online, 39% say the format’s educational value is equal to that of a course taken in a classroom.

The Future of Online Learning. College presidents predict substantial growth in online learning: 15% say most of their current undergraduate students have taken a class online, and 50% predict that 10 years from now most of their students will take classes online.

Digital Textbooks. Nearly two-thirds of college presidents (62%) anticipate that 10 years from now, more than half of the textbooks used by their undergraduate students will be entirely digital.

The Internet and Plagiarism. Most college presidents (55%) say that plagiarism in students’ papers has increased over the past 10 years. Among those who have seen an increase in plagiarism, 89% say computers and the internet have played a major role.

Do Laptops and Smartphones Belong in the Classroom? More than half of recent college graduates (57%) say when they were in college they used a laptop, smartphone or tablet computer in class at least sometime. Most colleges and universities do not have institutional guidelines in place for the use of these devices in class. Some 41% of college presidents say students are allowed to use laptops or other portable devices during class; at 56% of colleges and universities it is up to the individual instructors. Only 2% of presidents say the use of these devices is prohibited.

To access a complete copy of The Digital Revolution and Higher Education: College Presidents, Public Differ on Value of Online Learning, click here and a PDF will open.

Allen, I Elaine, and Jeff Seaman. Class Differences: Online Education in the United States, 2010. Rep. Babson Research and the Sloan Consortium, Nov. 2010. Web.

Parker, Kim, Amanda Lenhart, and Kathleen Moore. The Digital Revolution and Higher Education: College Presidents, Public Differ on Value of Online Learning. Rep. Pew Research Center, 28 Aug. 2011. Web. 30 Aug. 2011.