January 23, 2017

In the USA, fully online enrollments continue to grow in 2014

Image: WCET, 2015

Image: WCET, 2015

Straut, T.T. and Poulin, R. (2015) Highlights of Distance Education Trends from IPEDS Fall 2014, WCET Frontiers, 21 December

Source

WCET (the Western Co-operative for Educational Technology) has once again done an excellent job in analysing the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES)’  Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) data that reports Distance Education (DE) student enrollment for the Fall of 2014.

Results

Enrollments by students ‘Exclusively in Distance Education’ continued to rise in 2014. There were 2,824,334 fully online enrollments in 2014, compared to 2,659,203 in 2013, representing a 6% increase in just one year, or just under 13% of total enrollments.

Students taking at least some fully online courses but not an entirely fully online program also increased, from 2,806,048 in 2013 to 2,926,083 in 2014 (a 4% increase). [Note: these are not students taking blended or hybrid courses, but taking some fully online courses as well as campus-based courses.]

At the same time overall enrollments dropped slightly (just under 1%). Thus online learning continues to grow faster than conventional higher education. Taken together at least 28% of all U.S. higher education students are taking at least some fully online courses.

Image: WCET, 2015

Image: WCET, 2015

However, perhaps more interesting is where this growth occurred. The biggest increase in fully online courses came from the more prestigious private, non-profit sector (22% increase), while the for-profit sector (UofPhoenix, etc.) actually declined by 11%.  Indeed, the for-profit sector now accounts for less than one third of all fully online enrollments.

Cautions

The IPEDS data is relatively new (this is the third year of reporting). There are problems of definition (‘distance education’ and ‘fully online’ are not necessarily the same), and there appears in past years to have been inconsistent reporting across institutions.

WCET will be following up on this initial report with more detailed reports in 2016, including an analysis of the reliability of the data.

Comment

Despite the cautions, this data, based on a census of all U.S. higher education institutions, is probably the most reliable to date.

Despite the (assumed) growth in blended learning, fully online learning appears to be more than holding its own. One reason is clear. Many of the more prestigious private, non-profit institutions have room to grow in their adoption of online learning, being slower initially to move in this direction.

To what extent this growth of online learning in the private, non-profit sector is owed to the publicity from or experience with MOOCs remains to be assessed, but the growth of for-credit online learning in this sector is an indication of the increasingly broad acceptance now of fully online learning.

What is needed now is more data on – and clearer definitions of – blended learning, as it seems reasonable to assume that as on-campus programs become more flexible through blended learning, this will impact eventually on fully online enrollments. But kudos to the U.S. Department of Education for setting up these surveys and to WCET in helping with the analysis. Now if only Canada…….Justin?

WCET’s analysis of U.S. statistics on distance education

IPEDS 2

U.S.Department of Education (2014) Web Tables: Enrollment in Distance Education Courses, by State: Fall 2012 Washington DC: U.S.Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics

Hill, P. and Poulin, R. (2014) A response to new NCES report on distance education e-Literate, June 11

The U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences operates a National Center for Education Statistics which in turn runs the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). IPEDS is:

a system of interrelated surveys conducted annually by the U.S. Department’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). IPEDS gathers information from every college, university, and technical and vocational institution that participates in the federal student financial aid programs. The Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, requires that institutions that participate in federal student aid programs report data on enrollments, program completions, graduation rates, faculty and staff, finances, institutional prices, and student financial aid. These data are made available to students and parents through the College Navigator college search Web site and to researchers and others through the IPEDS Data Center

Recently IPEDS released “Web Tables” containing results from their Fall Enrollment 2012 survey. This was the first survey in over a decade to include institutional enrollment counts for distance education students. In the article above, Phil Hill of e-Literate and Russell Poulin of WCET have co-written a short analysis of the Web Tables released by IPEDS.

The Hill and Poulin analysis

The main points they make are as follows:

  • overall the publication of the web tables in the form of a pdf is most welcome, in particular by providing a breakdown of IPEDS data by different variables such as state jurisdiction, control of institution, sector and student level
  • according to the IPEDS report there were just over 5.4 million students enrolled in distance education courses in the fall semester 2012 (NOTE: this number refers to students, NOT course enrollments).
  • roughly a quarter of all post-secondary students in the USA are enrolled in a distance education course.
  • the bulk of students in the USA taking distance education courses are in publicly funded institutions (85% of those taking at least some DE courses), although about one third of those taking all their classes at a distance are in private, for-profit institutions (e.g. University of Phoenix)
  • these figures do NOT include MOOC enrollments
  • as previously identified by Phil Hill in e-Literate, there is major discrepancy in the number of students taking at least one online course between the IPEDS study and the regular annual surveys conducted by Allen and Seaman at Babson College – 7.1 million for Babson and 5.5 million for IPEDS. Jeff Seaman, one of the two Babson authors, is also quoted in e-Literate on his interpretation of the differences. Hill and Poulin comment that the NCES report would have done well to at least refer to the significant differences.
  • Hill and Poulin claim that there has been confusion over which students get counted in IPEDS reporting and which do not. They suspect that there is undercounting in the hundreds of thousands, independent of distance education status.

Comment

There are lies, damned lies and statistics. Nevertheless, although the IPEDS data may not be perfect, it does a pretty good job of collecting data on distance education students across the whole of the USA. However, it does not distinguish between mode of delivery of distance education (are there still mainly print-based courses around)?

So we now have two totally independent analyses of distance education students in the USA, with a minimum number of 5.5 million and a maximum number of 7.1 million, i.e. between roughly a quarter and a third of all post-secondary students. From the Allen and Seaman longitudinal studies, we can also reasonably safely assume that online enrollments have been increasing between 10-20% per annum over the last 10 years, compared with overall enrollments of 2-5% per annum.

By contrast, in Canada we have no national data on either online or distance education students. It’s hard to see how Canadian governments or institutions can take evidence-based policy decisions about online or distance education without such basic information.

Lastly, thank you, Phil and Russ, for a very helpful analysis of the IPEDs report.

Update

For a more detailed analysis, see also:

Haynie, D. (2014) New Government Data Sheds Light on Online Learners US News, June 13

 

“Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated”: a retrospective of my work

Still alive on Saturday

Still alive on Sunday

Brindley. J. and Paul, R. (2013) Understanding the building blocks of online learning: Through the writings and research of pre-eminent online learning expert, Dr. Tony Bates Sudbury ON: Contact North, October 2

It was Mark Twain who complained in this way about a premature obituary in the New York Journal. While not quite an obituary, the Contact North post is the first in a series of eight that looks at my perspectives and advice on key issues in online learning, based, as each post unkindly points out, on my nearly 50 years of working for change and reform in post-secondary education.  This series was researched and developed by Contact North | Contact Nord Research Associates, Dr. Jane Brindley and Dr. Ross Paul.

This first post discusses my views on the drivers of change in the way we teach and learn, and on the role of online learning.

It also summarizes the posts that are to follow under the heading of the Seven Key Building Blocks of Online Learning:

  • planning for effective teaching with technology
  • how emerging pedagogies map onto the new technologies
  • how faculty can support learner success
  • how faculty can ensure quality in an online learning environment
  • guidelines for faculty from educational technology research
  • costing considerations for hybrid and online courses
  • institutional and faculty roles in strategic planning.

Contact North will be publishing one post every two weeks in this series.

Comment

Although I agreed to this project, and indeed have seen and commented on all the drafts for the series, you can perhaps tell that I am slightly embarrassed by the whole thing. Jane and Ross have done an amazing job pulling together an amorphous set of resources scattered through many blog posts, journal articles and books into a series of coherent posts that are directed clearly at the interests of faculty and instructors. I think the series will be particularly useful for those poor post-graduate students who have been given my books as set readings to wade through, and for instructors dipping their toes into online learning for the first time. I am immensely grateful to and honoured by Contact North for developing and promoting this series.

The main reason for my embarrassment is that most of the stuff in the posts is not my original work. Like everyone in academia, I stand on the shoulders of giants. (Interesting to note that this quotation was used by Isaac Newton in his introduction to Principia Mathematica – and he plagiarized the quote from someone else!) So all I have done in most of my writing is to pull together other people’s research and writings, and I am still concerned that this does not come across strongly enough in the series. You will also not find any critique or criticism of my work in this series, so please use the comment section after each post. Nevertheless, I respect Contact North’s desire for simplicity and clarity.

So I hope you will follow the series and more importantly (since regular readers of this blog are more than likely to be familiar with the material), direct colleagues, instructors new to online learning, and post-graduate students studying online learning, to this series of posts.

In the meantime THIS IS NOT THE END!

What’s next?

I will continue my blog as best I can while travelling, including the series on productivity and online learning (the next will look at the issues around scaling learner-instructor interactions).

I’m also working on a new book called provisionally ‘Teaching in a Digital Age’ which is due out next year.

So yes, I’m still alive.

What happened in online learning over the summer? – 2

English Bay Vancouver

English Bay Vancouver

This is the second summary post of some newsworthy items that happened over mainly July and August.

MOOCs

Peters, M. (2013) Massive Open Online Courses and Beyond: the Revolution to Come Truthout, August 17

This is an excellent, comprehensive and thoughtful analysis of where MOOCs are going.

What Michael Peters does is to set MOOCs within ‘a wider set of socio-technological changes that might be better explained within a theory of postindustrial education focusing on social media as the new culture.

In particular, he stresses two particular issues:

  • The first revolves around academic labor policy raising larger long-term issues of digital or immaterial labor: automation, deskilling and deprofessionalization, as well as casual and part-time recruitment of nontenured faculty or staff, adjuncts and technical staff with little pedagogical knowledge to replace trained faculty.
  • The other major issue with MOOCs is whether it will be responsible for the further monetization and financialization of higher education.

Peters argues that “peer philosophies” are at the heart of a radical notion of “openness” and would advocate the significance of peer governance, peer review, peer learning and peer collaboration as a collection of values that form the basis for open institutions and open management philosophies. 

His summary is well worth quoting in full:

The notion of the university as a public knowledge institution needs to reinvent a language and to initiate a new discourse that reexamines the notions of “public” and “institution” in a digital global economy characterized by increasing intercultural and international interconnectedness. This discourse needs to begin by understanding the historical and material conditions of its own future possibilities, including threats of the monopolization of knowledge and privatization of higher education together with the prospects and promise of forms of openness (open source, open access, open education, open science, open management) that promote the organization of digital creative labor and the democratization of access to knowledge.

Peters argues that MOOCs have a significant role to play in this development.

My only comment is that this is not the way I see MOOCs moving at the moment. Because of their very size, there are huge technical problems with peer review and peer governance in MOOCs. MOOCs as currently practiced are more about old-fashioned hierarchical and elite institutional knowledge transmission and with respect to Coursera and Udacity, more about the privatization of higher education, than about the social construction of knowledge among equals. Nevertheless, Peters’ overall arguments about the future development of universities in a digital age are spot on, even if they are at a rather abstract level. For me, MOOCs are an interesting distraction from the real issues that Peters raises, but at the same time are a stimulus to thinking about these larger issues.

Lastly, the article is worth reading for the references alone, which include:

Thanks to Howard Davis for directing me to this article.

California buzzing with online learning

Cotterell, S. (2013) UC Online aims to increase number of courses offered online The California Aggie, January 22

Powell, S. (2013) CSU rolls out expansion of online courses Daily Sundial, January 30

Introduction

California has at least three public post-secondary eduxation systems:

  • the University of California (e.g. Berkeley, UCLA, Davis)
  • California State University (also with multiple campuses)
  • California community colleges.

In addition, it has several prestigious private ivy league universities, such as Stanford and the University of Southern California.

The state-funded public systems are in dire financial trouble because of years of cuts (for more information, see Online Learning in California Generates Controversy)

These three articles indicate how the state and its public institutions are looking to online learning to ease some of the problems they are facing as a result of past cuts.

Money earmarked for online learning

Following recent elections, which included a referendum allowing the governor to raise taxes after years of no tax increases, the state governor has allocated $10 million for online course development, across the whole system. (This may seem a lot, but it is still relatively small given the size of the system).

Both the University of California system, and the California State University system, have set up or are setting up their own, system wide online initiatives. These initiatives are in addition to any online courses being offered by individual campuses (for instance, San Jose State University has many hundreds of credit online courses already).

Currently, there are four campuses participating in Cal State Online. San Jose State is also offering MOOCs through Udacity.

Similarly, in the University of California system, UC campuses individually offered over 2,500 online courses, with more than 90,000 enrolled students, in 2011-2012. Nevertheless it is starting up a new  University of California Online Education system. Courses offered through UCOE will be free to students enrolled in the University of California but wil charge a fee for those outside the system. One reason for setting up this system-wide online initiative is because currently, there is no easy way for cross-campus enrollment between the different online courses, but UCOE is developing a system that would provide students with this option.

Comment

As an outsider, it’s hard to get all the details (indeed, even insiders such as faculty in these systems are complaining about lack of details). What seems to be lacking though is a plan or a rationale for these new system-wide initiatives, which seem to duplicate already existing initiatives within the individual campuses.

The problem seems to be the difficulty for students in mixing and matching courses from different campuses within the same system. But this requires a relatively simple administrative fix (i.e. system-wide policies), and some tweaking of the student information systems, rather than constructing new systems with their own administration, overheads and new investment in course development and delivery.

I suspect that the California higher education system now has become so large and bureaucratic that it cannot handle innovation easily within the existing institutions, so is striving to get round this by creating new, equally large and bureaucratic systems. What I can’t see is how these initiatives are going to make much of a difference to student access or the lack of funding for conventional programs.