Online learning is growing, but support from higher education institutions has dropped, according to a new survey.
“Online Report Card: Tracking Online Education in the United States” is the 13th annual survey of higher education by the Babson Survey Research Group. This year, the team discovered an inverse relationship between dwindling higher education enrollment and soaring online enrollments.
The number of students taking online courses grew to 5.8 million nationally, continuing a growth trend that has been consistent for 13 years. More than a quarter of higher education students (28 percent) are enrolled in least one online course.
“The trend of increasing distance education enrollments in the face of declining overall higher ed enrollments suggests an important shift in the American higher education landscape, with contemporary learners leaning in to online options,” said Kathleen S. Ives, chief executive officer and executive director of the Online Learning Consortium. “The majority of academic leaders recognize this and understand online learning is critical to their institutions' long-term strategy.”
Despite this growth, some faculty members have become less confident in these online programs. Only 29.1 percent of chief academic officers surveyed report that their faculty accept "the value and legitimacy of online education." Furthermore, the number of academic leaders who regard online learning as critical to their long-term strategies dropped 7.5 percentage points (70.8 percent in 2015 to 63.3 percent today).
The report attributes this shift as coming from "the very smallest" institutions, accounting for 6.3 percent of all enrollments. "The change of opinion among the small institutions that no longer have aspirations to add online courses and/or programs will have no impact on the distance education universe," according to the report.
In the report's forward, the team announced that this would be the final report, now that online education had become mainstream: "The decision to end the reports in their current form is also based on the maturation of distance education programs in higher education and the growing number of other reports and surveys that have launched since we began this particular effort back in 2003. When more than one-quarter of higher education students are taking a course online, distance education is clearly mainstream."