Online Education Popularity Growing, But Traditional College Stays Strong


Student enrollment in traditional colleges continues to be strong as colleges offer students the in-person experience that online courses till cannot.

Three years ago, MOOCs were cited as a significant higher education disruptor. Finally, people worldwide could sign up for classes taught by elite professors and scientists from institutions like MIT and Harvard.

But MOOCs do not seem to have affected enrollment in traditional colleges, the primary reason being that MOOCs still don't offer, "official college degrees, the kind that can get you a job. And that, it turns out, is mostly what college students are paying for," writes Kevin Carey in The New York Times.

With the majority of companies setting a bachelor's degree as the absolute minimum prerequisite for employment, students take out loans so that four years later they can hold in their hands the valuable piece of paper that validates their skills and competency — in effect, a ticket of admission into the job market.

But initiatives such as those by the Mozilla Foundation and its Open Badges program that offer badges to students successfully completing online learning programs seems to be catching on. This type of online accreditation of one's online-acquired skills may be the missing piece of MOOCs' broader adoption.

Online program accreditation may revolutionization of higher education, SI News highlights, agreeing with Carey's statement that,

"[t]he most important thing about badges is that they aren't limited to what people learn in college. Nor are they controlled by colleges exclusively. People learn throughout their lives, at work, at home, in church, among their communities. The fact that colleges currently have a near-monopoly on degrees that lead to jobs goes a long way toward explaining how they can continue raising prices every year."

Carey warns, however, that it will take time before government regulators, companies and even the public can accept these "verified credentials" as equal to a conventional college degrees.

Financial Times' Adam Palin has a different interpretation, arguing the revolution has already taken place. Citing AACSB International, Palin argues that by 2013 and early 2014 online MBA degrees accounted for 11% of the total courses.

MOOCs have proven to be a priceless learning opportunity for working professionals and people with families. The inability to attend on-campus classes but participate in them while at one's home office is part of what makes MBA and other online degrees so popular.

Financial and geographical barriers are not an issue for online class enrolled students — a welcome development for those without funds or in remote areas. Technology is making it easier to collapse time differences and bridge physical distances, and even extensive funding and scholarships is now available to online students.

Massive open online course providers like Coursera and Udacity are teaming up with technology giants so that students can acquire the skills and knowledge necessary for working at a particular company.

More MOOCs providers are offering programs such as minidegrees or nanodegrees. Such highly technical customized degree programs are the future, TechTank believes.'s Quincy Hodges writes:

"the partnership between online education and employers is likely a game-changer; accreditation as a restriction on competition is eroding; and microdegrees are likely the pathway to customized degree programs."

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