Online education provides options

Online education isn’t new, and online student enrollment and success rates were among the topics at the recent Higher Ed Remastered annual meeting. Online education makes higher education available to students who might have limited accessibility to programs because of where they live. It has made it possible for students with an already-full work or family schedule to access classes on a more convenient schedule. While it has accomplished all this, online education is no longer just a way for students with limited accessibility to pursue higher education. It is a scheduling and delivery option for all students. And many of them use it exclusively or in combination with face-to-face education.

Recent figures show that adult undergraduate enrollment is falling, but online higher education is growing, especially among non-traditional students. From 2012 to 2017 the number of undergraduates studying fully online grew by 11 percent to about 2.25 million. This growth came while the number of traditional-age undergraduates grew by only 3 percent, and the number of adult undergraduates actually decreased by 23 percent. The increased numbers of adult students studying online come as many of them are going to school while they work and take care of a family. For these students online education is a way to raise their education level or learn new skills while they maintain other responsibilities.

The survey Online College Students 2017: Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences by Learning House, an academic program management company, and Aslanian Market Research collected data from 1500 fully-online students. One important reason students gave for choosing online courses was the ability to finish their degree quickly. The majority of students wanted year-round online classes and frequent start dates. Half of them enrolled in courses that are nine to 12 weeks in length.

While it is true that online education provides an opportunity for student to study virtually anywhere, most studies show that students take classes near to home. In 2016, 56.1 percent of students who were in fully-online programs took classes at school in their home state, according to a survey by Babson Survey Research Group. The percent of students studying at colleges in their home state rose to 84.2 percent at public schools. Location isn’t a major factor for online education students. Instead, online has become an additional option for them.

The 2018 Online College Students survey shows that many online students see online classes as a viable alternative to face-to-face classes. The majority of students said they would enroll in a classroom program if their online program wasn’t available; 26 percent said they would definitely and 31 percent said they probably would. That is an increase from 2015 when only 14 percent said they would and 25 percent said they probably would enroll.

Students’ willingness to combine online and face-to-face education may be a factor that contributes to their successful degree completion. Students at schools with a very high proportion of online instruction are significantly less likely to earn a degree within eight years than students at colleges with less online instruction, according to Higher Ed Remastered. Face-to-face instruction creates an opportunity for students to interact, and this can help lead to their success.

Many online students want opportunities for interaction during their education. This interaction that can come from combining online and face-to-face education is a factor in helping raise student success rates. Online College Students 2017 showed:
• 57 percent of student said that interaction with their academic community is important to them
• 25 percent said having more contact with instructors and more engagement with fellow students would improve the caliber of their online courses
• 76 percent said they want instructors to offer virtual office hours.
A tuition assistance program is another way students can find interaction that can build success. An education plan and a career path, along with financial support from employers, will help students move toward successful completion.