The Recession Is Affecting Online Higher Education – Duh…

John SenerBy John Sener

In an earlier article in March (How Is the Recession Affecting Online Higher Education?), I asked whether anyone had found any “concrete evidence on the recession’s effect on online education” and received little response.  I noted that I had only been able to find speculation and perception about this topic.

Well, apparently I asked too soon or was not using the right search terms or something — this evening I’m finding all sorts of examples of how online education is on the rise thanks to the economy, especially at community colleges, for example:

Amy Rolph, “Colleges Nationwide See a Boost in Enrollment as the Economy Sours” (, 10.9.08)

North Seattle Community College reports a 32 percent increase in online enrollments over 2007. Seattle Central Community College officials say their online-course registration is up 27 percent this year. Most online students take “hybrid” classes taught partly online and partly on campus, so they don’t have to drive to school every day and have more flexibility for work.

Jeffrey J. Selingo, “Community-College Leaders Confront a Challenge: Enrollments Are Up but Money Isn’t” (Chronicle of Higher Education, 4.5.09)

Thelma White, president of Elizabethtown Community and Technical College, a Kentucky institution that has seen its enrollment jump by 18 percent this year as automobile-parts suppliers cut jobs in the area, has developed a career-transition program. It offers a 50-percent discount on tuition up to six credit hours for workers laid off since last fall. “The important part is that this is not costing us anything more to provide,” Ms. White said. “We’re looking to fill spaces in courses. We’re not going out to create new sections and hire more faculty.”

Dana Forde, “Online Programs See Uptick in Enrollment, Despite Economy” (Diverse, 3.6.09)

Dr. Jennifer Lerner, director of the Extended Learning Institute at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA), says officials have added more course sections and additional instructors to help keep up with the increased demand for online learning. “We are currently 10 percent larger than we were last spring,” says Lerner, adding that about 7,500 students are enrolled per semester in distance-learning programs at NOVA. “I definitely think that either the economy is a significant part of the cause for that growth or it is the result of people losing jobs or wanting to retain or bulk up on their skills so that they are prepared for opportunities that may arise.”

Grace Chen, “Why Student Enrollment Rises as the Economy Falls” (Community College Review, 10.22.08)

Some experts theorize that a dwindling economy actually helps to stimulate student enrollment. As Inside Higher Education explores, “Whether it’s the economy, new academic programs or better recruiting, community colleges are seeing an enrollment boom. While enrollment has been growing steadily at many two-year institutions, this fall appears likely to set records for many of these colleges.”

ccpressurvClick the image for the graphic presentation. Click here to view the report.

New Survey of Community College Leaders Finds Rising Enrollments, Declining Budgets” (Pearson Education, 3.18.09)
Scott Jaschik, “Community College Surge” (Inside Higher Ed, 3.18.09)
Kenneth C. Green, “Community Colleges Surge Amid Economic Downtown” (Converge, 3.18.09)

The last three are reporting on the same study by Kenneth C. Green, The Campus Computing Project (see the image above), in February-March of this year — a survey of 120 community college presidents who have actual figures to report. But online education is on the rise at four-year schools as well, for example:

Eric Ferreri, “Distance Education Enrollment Up 20%: Online Classes Help Jobless, Reduce Need for Buildings” (News & Observer, 1.8.09)

Enrollment in distance education courses through UNC system campuses shot up more than 20 percent in 2008. The jump points in part to the desperation of out-of-work people looking to shift careers and make themselves more marketable. More than 22,000 UNC system students stayed off campus entirely last year, taking courses either at satellite sites or over the Internet. They are a relatively small but rapidly growing piece of the UNC system’s overall student pool, which topped 215,000 in 2008.

Bridget Botelho, “Mass High Tech – Online Universities Grow Enrollment” (UMassOnline, 3.30.09)

According to the 2008 report about Online Education in the United States by the Needham-based Sloan Consortium, more than 20 percent — 3.9 million — of all college students were taking at least one course online in the fall of 2007, and the numbers continue to grow. The number of students enrolled in online learning increased 12 percent over the previous year, and online enrollment growth far exceeded the 1.2 percent growth of the overall higher education student population, according to Sloan, an organization dedicated to integrating online education into mainstream higher education.

etc. etc. . . .

5 Responses

  1. I see increases in enrolment from Africa and Asia Minor where Ghenghis Khan road his horses to conquer the East Asia. However, because of this I am afraid education standards and entry requirements will fall as universities are mushrooming all over the world like wild weeds.

  2. Dr. Tay,

    Interesting point. This issue of standards falling as numbers climb seems to hang on the assumption that dilution is a necessary consequence of exponential increases in access to online learning. I’m not convinced that this assumption is true. As the sheer amount of educational resources on the web increases, we may find that the quality of learning is actually enhanced.

    Thus, we may be able to say that huge numbers of students online will have a positive impact on the quality of educational resources that are available on the web — based on market demand alone. The proliferation of universities around the world is a good example. In this case, as the number of institutions increased, quality standards not only kept pace but grew.

    In any case, welcome to ETC, and we hope to hear from you often in our discussions.


  3. John, I’m reminded of the old saw, necessity is the mother of invention. The need to meet the demands of a highly educated, widely distributed, mobile work force will increasingly lead the way to online educational technology. As instructors and students take their interactions online, they’ll begin to see the tremendous advantages of the internet and gradually pull away from F2F practices until the ratio of F2F to online approaches 0:100.

    An analogy is freeways vs. streets. Once you’ve taken the on-ramp to the freeway and driven nonstop to your destination at 60 mph, traveling the regular streets to get to the same location becomes unbearable. When there’s a quicker, simpler, more hassle-free way to accomplish a task, that way always prevails.

    Thus, even though online is now seen as an inferior alternative to F2F instruction, a second-best solution, the fact that it’s being used will translate, gradually, into acceptance, quality, and best practice.

  4. Just concluded my training at in other words I was being trained to be a tutor at that particular institution. Due to poor Internet connectivity our teleconferencing stint seemedd to be interupted by wild fluctuations in connectivity. I guess once broadband becomes super fast will online learning really take off. Secondly, at APIIT we have a mixture of online materials and f2f as mentioned. I find f2f more interactive as students from Africa and the Middle East partake actively compared to Malaysian students who generally have to be spoonfed. Online education assumes that students can teach themselves with a mimimum of f2f instruction but in this part of the world it is a tall order. My evening part timers who are working professionals are often plagued by multiple attention disorder as either their work and family commitments take precedence.

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