Annual Babson Survey Shows Online Courses Rise as Enrollment Declines

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A report by The Babson Research Group has revealed that enrollment in online classes increased from 3.7 to 3.9 percent, with 5.8 million college students’ taking online courses in 2014 despite overall undergraduate enrollment declining.

Babson has released this survey annually for 13 years and has based it on the responses of over 1,000 higher education officials nationwide. This year’s report is sponsored by Pearson, the Online Learning Consortium, StudyPortals, Tyton Partners and the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies.

The 2015 Babson Survey of Online Learning also found out that this increase was uneven: Private not-for-profit organizations grew by 11.3 percent while for-profits organizations witnessed their online enrollments drop by 2.8 percent. Jeff Seamon, the co-author of the report and co-director of Babson Survey Research Group, commented that the enrollment numbers would stabilize:

“I think that there’s been a change in potential students’ perceptions of the for-profit sector because there’s been a whole series of negative things coming out about that – about marketing issues and the quality of education.”

Despite increasing online course enrollments, not all academic leaders view online learning as crucial for their long-term strategy, writes EdSurge. In fact, the survey showed that chief academic leaders who viewed online education as a significant part of their development strategy in the long-run decreased to 63.3 percent in 2015 after reaching a peak of 70.8 percent in 2014. It the biggest year-to-year fall on this research question.

According to Seamon, the reason is the lack of online offerings some colleges have, writes Dian Schaffhauser of The Campus Technology. In 2014, 33.8 percent of the institutions offered online classes. That percentage fell to 19.5 in 2015.

These results are worth attention, said Seaman. Many of those universities with no distance learning options and small student bodies tried to implement online courses into their curricula, but it did not work out because of lack of staff and resources.

As for MOOC classes, the survey found out that only 11.3 percent of the U.S. schools are offering them in 2015. Their number is slowly rising. However, 27.8 percent of the responding universities said they were undecided whether to offer MOOCs or not. 58.7 percent say they had no plans to offer MOOCs.

“They don’t think they’re a sustainable way to essentially deliver courses for credit – the kind of things they do as their core business,” Seaman commented.

The survey also found out that just 29.1 percent of the academic leaders defined online learning as valuable and legitimate, writes Jordan Friedman of U.S. News and World Report. Despite students’ growing interest in online learning, US professors’ skepticism has not changed much in the thirteen years since Babson is following the topic, writes Amy X. Wang of Quartz.

The increasing number of online course offerings by the traditional universities is a “top-down” decision made by management for the purpose of attracting their target audience, Seamon said. He also added that faculty members thought e-learning could have a negative impact on the quality of teaching and could also reflect on their paychecks.