Thursday, December 19, 2013

Survey: Do resident college students want to take courses online?

First, let me say that I work at a medium/smallish public college in New Jersey. The College of New Jersey is very selective. If you walk the campus you will get the impression that you are on an intimate private college. Over 60% of the students live on this very walking campus. Distance learning. or eLearning, has not been a strategic initiative. The college does utilize a learning managment system and offers a limited number of blended courses in the winter and suummer sessions. The faculty and students have been very committed to the "traditonal" face to face faculty/student relationship.

Here is where the surprise comes in. In my annual fall technology survey I asked students "Would you consider taking a totally on-line course during the fall or spring semester, if they were available?" Of the 844 students responding 62% said yes! This was a bit of a surprise because the overall tone I had picked up on around campus has been that "we don't do that here. We are committed to the traditonal classroom experience." I also asked students if they would consider taking a blended course or totally on-line course during the summer or winter sessions. Of the sample 8% said they would be interested in taking a blended course during the shorter sessions and 15% said they would be interested in taking a totally online coure in January or over the summer.

Let's step back and look at the larger numbers. TCNJ has about 6500 undergraduate enrolled. Exptrapolating the percentages this would mean that approximately 4030 students would like to take a fall/spring course totally on-line. Based on an average load of 16 credit hours and 4 credits per course, this means that perhaps 500 course sections could be offered on-line every semester. This is about 25% over the totally sections taught. What does this mean for classrooms needed, building support, utilities, and other infrastructure costs. This could also reduce the amount of on-campus needed for adjunct faculty and even effect faculty parking! As colleges struggle to maintain, and even build more, facilities what does this mean for the total cost of instruction and services. What does it mean for the budget, the number of support personnel needed, and ultimately tuition? Hmm. Worth thinking about.

Looking at the interest in January and summer session courses we could guestimate the 22% of the same 6500 students, or 1430 students, might take a class if it were offered totally or partially online. At roughly $2,000 per course, this could be up to $285,000 in potentially lost revenue. Since some blended courses are currently offered now, its hard to say exactly how much revenue is lost.

So we know that eLearning courses require less infrastructure and probably fewer staff to support physical classrooms. We can also at least see that even with minimal promotion, there is some lost revenue. With some promotion and prehaps the creation of certificate or other programs, this could grow significantly. I am in no way throwing stones at my employer. No way. At my last instution there was prehaps more eLearning going on, but there was not strategic direction or analysis done to see where costs could be cut and perhaps additonal revenue generated. I think community colleges (some at least) are much more attuned to the market than the traditonal four year residential colleges. Its probably time for many public colleges to at least dig into the possiblities.

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