Making the Grade: Online Education in the United States, 2006 - Midwestern Edition

Abstract: 

Making the Grade: Online Education in the United States, 2006 - Midwestern Edition is based on data collected for the fourth annual national report on the state of online education in U.S. higher education. Supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and conducted by the Babson Survey Research Group in partnership with the College Board, the report, based on responses from over 2,200 colleges and universities, examines the nature and extent of online learning among U.S. higher education institutions.

Full Article (PDF): 

Introduction

This special Midwestern Edition of the latest national report, Making the Grade: Online Education in the United States, 2006, provides the first examination of the development and importance of online learning in the Midwest. Because of the exponential increase in online learning of all types in recent years, MHEC is partnering with the non-profit Sloan Consortium on this first MHEC-Sloan Consortium joint report. We believe that you will find this report to be an invaluable planning aid, providing you with the ability to compare your own responses to those of other institutions.

As you may know, the Sloan Consortium conducts an annual survey of the status of online learning in U.S. higher education. The national reports, together with the this Midwestern edition, makes it one of the most current, comprehensive, and widely quoted sources of information on the numbers and trends in online learning.

Larry A. Isaak
President
Midwestern Higher Education Compact

Overview

Making the Grade: Online Education in the United States, 2006: Midwestern Edition describes the state of online learning among higher education institutions in the eleven-state Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC) region. This study is 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 550 Midwestern colleges and universities, the study addresses the following key questions:

Has the Growth of Online Enrollments Begun to Plateau?

Background: For the past several years, online enrollments have been growing substantially faster than the overall higher education student body. However, last year’s national study, while reporting the same numeric increase as the previous year, had a lower percentage growth rate. Could this be an early indicator that online enrollment growth has finally begun to plateau?

The evidence: There has been no leveling of the growth rate of online enrollments; institutions of higher education report record online enrollment growth on both a numeric and a percentage basis.

  • Nationally, nearly 3.2 million students were taking at least one online course during the fall 2005 term, a substantial 35 percent increase over the 2.3 million reported the previous year.
  • The eleven MHEC Midwestern states represent about fifteen percent of online enrollments, with over 460,000 students taking at least one online course in fall 2005.

Who is Learning Online?

Background: There is some evidence that online education appeals to a different type of student from those who participate in face-to-face instruction. Online students tend to be older and often hold additional employment and family responsibilities, as compared to the more traditional student. Do these differences mean that online students are taking different level courses or studying at different types of institutions?

The evidence: The distribution of online students by level of study is similar to that of the general higher education student body, but the mix of schools at which they are enrolled is not.

  • Online students, both nationally and in the Midwest, are overwhelmingly undergraduates, matching their proportion among the overall higher education student body.
  • Online students, especially undergraduates, are more likely to be studying at associate's institutions than are their face-to-face contemporaries.

What Types of Institutions Have Online Offerings?

Background: Previous reports in this series have shown a very uneven distribution of online course and program offerings by type of institution. Public institutions and the largest institutions of all types have consistently been at the forefront of online offerings. Those that are the least likely to offer online courses have been the small, private, four-year institutions.

The evidence: This year’s results show no major changes from previous patterns. The same types of institutions are at the forefront of online offerings.

  • More than 98 percent of the very largest Midwestern institutions (more than 15,000 total enrollments) have some online offerings, which is more than double the rate observed for the smallest institutions.
  • The proportion of Midwestern institutions with fully online programs rises steadily as institutional size increases, and about two-thirds of the very largest institutions have fully online programs, compared to only about one-sixth of the smallest institutions.
  • Midwestern doctoral/research institutions have the greatest penetration of offering online programs as well as the highest overall rate (more than 90%) of having some form of online offering (either courses or full programs).
  • Midwestern associate’s institutions are teaching over six in ten (62.8%) of all Midwestern online undergraduate students.

Have Perceptions of Quality Changed for Online Offerings?

Background: The first national study in this series found that a majority of chief academic officers rated the learning outcomes for online education “as good as or better” than those for face-to-face instruction. The following year’s report displayed similar results. Do academic leaders hold the same opinion today, given the rapid growth in the numbers of online students?

The evidence: By an increasing margin, most chief academic officers believe that the quality of online instruction is equal to or superior to that of face-to-face learning.

  • In 2003, 56 percent of academic leaders in the eleven Midwestern MHEC states rated the learning outcomes in online education as the same or superior to those in face-to-face instructional settings. That number is now 62 percent.
  • The proportion who believe that online learning outcomes are superior to those for face-to-face is still relatively small but has grown by 34 percent since 2003, from 10.2 percent to 13.7 percent.

What are the Barriers to Widespread Adoption of Online Education?

Background: Previous studies have identified a number of areas of concern for the potential growth of online offerings and enrollments. Academic leaders have commented that their faculty often don’t accept the value of online learning and that it takes more time and effort to teach an online course. To what extent do these leaders see these issues and others as critical barriers to the widespread adoption of online learning?

The evidence: Problem areas identified in previous years are still seen as areas of concern among academic leaders.

  • Only 7.2 percent of Midwestern chief academic officers agreed that there are no significant barriers to widespread adoption of online learning.
  • More than half of Midwestern academic leaders cite the need for more discipline on the part of online students as a critical barrier.
  • Faculty issues, including acceptance of online instruction and the need for greater time and effort to teach online, remain important barriers.
  • Neither a perceived lack of demand on the part of potential students nor the acceptance of an online degree by potential employers was seen as a critical barrier.

Established in 1991 as a statutorily created interstate compact, the Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC) is charged with promoting regional cooperation and resource sharing in higher education. MHEC serves all nonprofit education and state government entities in the eleven-member states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.