Survey Shows Lowest Growth Rate For Online Courses

A newly released Babson study recorded the lowest growth surge in students who took at least one online college course in a given year in almost a decade of surveys, while the higher education adoption of Massive Online Open Courses remains low.

Despite the courses’ continued popular enrollment, it was found that only 7.1 million people took 1 online course or more — about a 6 percent increase from the year before. Although the study did record continued growth, this 6 percent increase is the lowest ever recorded. 36.5 percent in 2005 was the highest.

Jaclyn Reiss of Boston.com reported that some academic leaders are also growing wary of online learning’s place at their institutions: 74 percent of officials thought the online courses were the same or superior to face-to-face classes, a drop from last year’s 77 percent. The number of leaders who said they see virtual learning as part of their long-term plan fell from 69 percent to 65 percent.

In contrast to the slowed rate of growth and dropped percentage of opinion, there was an all-time high recorded by the study — 33 percent of higher education students have taken at least one online course compared to 9 percent recorded in 2002.

“While the rate of growth in online enrollments has moderated over the past several years, it still greatly exceeds the growth in overall higher education enrollments,” said study co-author I. Elaine Allen, co-director of the Babson Survey Research Group.

And almost 90 percent of academic leaders surveyed think it’s likely that more students will continue to at least take one online course in the next five years.

“The 2013 survey findings reinforce the first-hand experience of our members, who continue to demonstrate that online learning has become a fundamental component of today’s higher education environment,” said Joel Hartman, Sloan Consortium board president and vice provost and CIO of the University of Central Florida.

The study also reported that there was an increase from 2.6 percent to 5 percent in colleges offering free Massive Open Online Courses with another 10 percent planning to do so in the near future.

A vast majority of institutions, about 53 percent are still undecided about offering MOOCs. The percentage of academic leaders who believe that MOOCs are sustainable for offering courses has dropped to 23 percent from 28 percent in 2012.

MOOCs have made some buzz in higher education though; currently, the Cambridge-based edX, a renowned MOOC site run by Harvard and MIT, offers courses from 30 different universities around the country and world, including UC Berkeley, Cornell, Georgetown, and Boston University.

The survey study interviewed 2,800 colleges in the US. The Babson Survey Research Group administered the survey, and the College Board helped with data collection.

In order to keep the study independent, the Babson Survey Research Group has the support of the Pearson Education Group and the Sloan Consortium.