Growing by Degrees: Online Education in the United States, 2005 - Southern Edition

Abstract: 

Growing by Degrees: Online Education in the United States, 2005 - Southern Edition is based on data collected for the third annual national report on the state of online education in U.S. higher education. Supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and based on responses from over 400 southern colleges and universities, this special report examines the nature and extent of online learning among the 16 southern states that make up the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB).

The survey analysis is based on a comprehensive nationwide sample of active, degree-granting institutions of higher education in the United States that are open to the public.

Full Article (PDF): 

Introduction

Welcome to the first annual Southern Edition Report on online learning. Earlier this year, the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) entered into a data collection partnership with the Sloan Consortium. As many of you know, the Sloan Consortium conducts an annual survey on the state of online learning in higher education in the U.S. Three reports have been released: "Sizing the Opportunity: The Quality and Extent of Online Education in the United States, 2002 and 2003," "Entering the Mainstream: Online Education in United States Higher Education, 2003 and 2004" and "Growing by Degrees: Online Education in the United States, 2005." The surveys have quickly become the most current, comprehensive, and widely quoted source of information on the numbers and trends in online learning. You can download the reports from the Sloan Consortium web site at http://www.sloan-c.org/.

This report is a special version of the latest report, "Growing by Degrees: Online Education in the United States, 2005." The Sloan Consortium agreed to produce this Southern Edition for SREB and Electronic Campus colleges and universities. This report is also available for free download to the SREB community. I believe that you will find the report of real interest and an invaluable planning aid, providing you with the ability to compare your own responses to those of other colleges and universities in the SREB region, as well as to the national sample for the main Sloan Consortium report.

On behalf of SREB, our member states and Electronic Campus colleges and universities, I want to thank the Sloan Consortium and Drs. Elaine Allen and Jeff Seaman for undertaking this special effort. Further, the continuing support of this vital research by Dr. A. Frank Mayadas, Program Officer, of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, is greatly appreciated.

Dr. Bruce N. Chaloux
Director
Electronic Campus
Southern Regional Education Board

Overview

Growing by Degrees: Online Education in the United States, 2005 - Southern Edition is based on data collected for the third annual national report on the state of online education in U.S. Higher Education. This year's study was aimed at answering some of the fundamental questions about the nature and extent of online education. Supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and based on responses from over 400 southern colleges and universities, this special report examines the nature and extent of online learning among the 16 southern states that make up the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB). Readers are directed to the national study, Growing by Degrees: Online Education in the United States, 2005, for comparison data.

Online learning is thriving in the southern states. The patterns of growth and acceptance of online education among the 16 southern states in this report are very similar to that observed for the national sample, with one clear difference: online learning has made greater inroads in the southern states than in the nation as a whole. Penetration rates are consistently higher and attitudes towards online education are consistently more positive. The details:

Have the course and program offerings in online education entered the mainstream?

Background: Last year's national study, Entering the Mainstream: The Quality and Extent of Online Education in the United States, 2003 and 2004 suggested that online education was penetrating the institutions of higher education in both size and breadth of programs and courses. Is online education now part of the mainstream of higher education?

The evidence: The answer to this question appears to clearly be "Yes:" schools are offering a large number of online courses, and there is great diversity in the courses and programs being offered:

  • Sixty-two percent of southern schools offering graduate face-to-face courses also offer graduate courses online.
  • Sixty-eight percent of southern schools offering undergraduate face-to-face courses also offer undergraduate courses online.
  • Among all southern schools offering face-to-face Master's degree programs, 47% also offer Master's programs online.
  • Among all southern schools offering face-to-face Business degree programs, 48% also offer online Business programs.

Who is teaching online?

Online Program Penetration - Southern States - Fall 2004

Certificate Program

36.9%

Associate Program

45.3%

Bachelors Program

31.9%

Masters Program

46.6%

Doctoral Program

16.6%

Professional Program

12.6%

Background: When institutions move to embrace online education, do they do so at the expense of their current core faculty? If a greater proportion of online courses are being taught by adjunct faculty, hired on a per-course basis, it may mean fewer opportunities for core faculty members, and, some would argue, lower course quality. Some have claimed that the move to online education will cost jobs for core faculty. Does the evidence support this concern?

The evidence: Staffing for online courses does not come at the expense of core faculty. Institutions use about the same mixture of core and adjunct faculty to staff their online courses as they do for their face-to-face courses. Instead of more adjunct faculty teaching online courses, the opposite is found; overall, there is a slightly greater use of core faculty for teaching online than for face-to-face.

  • Seventy-two percent of southern higher education institutions report that they are using primarily core faculty to teach their online courses, the same percentage that report they are using primarily core faculty to teach their face-to-face courses
  • Seventy-nine percent of southern Public colleges report that their online courses are taught by core faculty, as opposed to only 69% for their face-to-face courses.

Is online education becoming part of long-term strategy for most schools?

Background: Approximately one-half of all institutions rated online education as important for their long-term strategy in our two previous studies. This belief was not consistent across all types of institutions, however. Small schools and private, nonprofit institutions were the least likely to support this view. Have opinions changed over time? Do more institutions now agree that online education is an important long-term strategy, and has this changed for specific subgroups of institutions?

The evidence: The evidence from higher education's academic leaders suggests that there is a strong trend upwards in considering online education as part of a school's long-term strategy. While there is some diversity in response to this question, there is growth among all types of schools:

  • The overall percent of southern schools identifying online education as a critical long-term strategy grew from 52% in 2003 to 64% in 2005.
  • The largest increases were seen in Associates degree institutions where 78% now agree that it is part of their institution's long-term strategy, up from 62% in 2003.
  • The smallest schools, private nonprofit institutions and Baccalaureate colleges remain the least likely to agree that online education is part of their long-term strategy.

Have online enrollments continued their rapid growth?

Background: Last year's national study reported a 22.9% overall increase in the number of students taking one or more online courses, growing from 1.60 to 1.98 million students. Schools were optimistic about future growth as well, with 74.8% reporting that they expected their online enrollments to increase. Has the rapid growth in online enrollments continued for another year?

The evidence: Growth has continued at a healthy rate, but not as rapidly as last year. The national increase in the overall number of online learners was the same this year as last (an increase of around 360,000 each year) for an overall enrollment growth rate of 18.2%. This growth rate greatly exceeds the overall growth rate in the higher education student body.

  • Overall national online enrollment increased from 1.98 million in 2003 to 2.35 million in 2004.
  • The online enrollment growth rate is over ten times that projected by the National Center for Education Statistics for the general postsecondary student population.
  • The southern states represent 29% of online enrollments, with 672,000 students taking at least one online course.

What are Chief Academic Officer's opinions about online education?

Background: Our previous studies have shown that Chief Academic Officers believe, in general, that online courses are of equal quality to face-to-face and that students are as satisfied with online as with face-to-face courses. They have also expressed reservations about their faculty's acceptance of online education. Have Chief Academic Officers changed in their beliefs about faculty acceptance of online education?

The evidence: There is some good news for online education, but the opinions of Chief Academic Officers also raise a number of challenges. On the positive side, they believe it is no harder to evaluate online courses than those delivered face-to-face. More challenging, however, is that Academic leaders believe that online courses require more effort for faculty and more discipline by students, and many of them continue to believe that their faculty have not accepted the value of online education.

  • Chief Academic Officers believe, in general, that it takes more effort to teach online.
  • A large majority of respondents (72%) believe that it takes more discipline for a student to succeed in an online course.
  • Although online education continues to penetrate into all types of institutions, only a relatively stable minority of Chief Academic Officers (30% in 2003 compared with 35% in 2005) continue to believe that their faculty fully accept the value and legitimacy of online education.
  • Eighty-two percent of respondents believe that it is no more difficult to evaluate the quality of an online course than one delivered face-to-face.

The Southern Regional Education Board, the nation's first interstate compact for education, was created in 1948 by Southern states. SREB helps government and education leaders work cooperatively to advance education and, in doing so, to improve the social and economic life of the region. SREB's 16 member states are Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.