Distance Education Survey Looks At Higher Ed Realities

How is the higher education sector coping with lower levels of funding since 2008? A new report published by the Instructional Technology Council attempts to illuminate strategies adopted by both schools and their students to exist in a new financial reality in the wake of the recession.

According to a report titled "2012 Distance Education Survey", although enrollment in colleges and universities across the country has stabilized, the reductions in funding imposed by state and federal governments in the wake of the 2008 financial collapse appear to be permanent. Community colleges were particularly hard hit by the combination of less funding and higher enrollment numbers in the years following as students sought to enroll in classes that would burnish their resumes.

Since then, although the number and the level of urgency of the applicants has been reduced somewhat, community colleges are still struggling to cover their operating expenses which oftentimes exceed the amount they collect in tuition.

Participants in this ITC survey reported that distance education enrollments grew by 6.52 percent from fall 2011 to fall 2012. This pace was slower than in previous years (fall 2007 to 2008 saw a 22 percent increase), but the increase distance education saw surpassed the overall 2.64 percent decline in student enrollment that the entire student population (including those enrolled in face-to-face classes) at colleges experienced.

There has been increased scrutiny of distance learning programs among state and federal lawmakers to examine their money-saving potential. The federal funding for such programs is disbursed according to the Higher Education Act of 1965, which comes up for reauthorization every four to six years. The report's authors warn that this could mean substantial funding changes as early as 2014, including new requirements placed on state governments when it comes to schools providing distance learning courses.

Fred Lokken, member of the ITC Board of Directors, WebCollege, Truckee Meadows Community College draws the attention of higher education stakeholders to several visible trends:

Student demand for distance education courses at community colleges continues to grow—at a rate that is much greater than the demand for on-campus, face-to-face courses. However, the unprecedented growth of the past decade has slowed on many campuses, as overall student enrollment at many community colleges has declined due to the resurgent economy.

As online instruction continues to mature, distance education administrators see a pressing need to address course quality and design, faculty training and preparation, course assessment, and improvements in student readiness and retention.

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