Enrollment in Online Courses Slows, New Report Finds

The number of college students taking at least one course online continues to rise, but at the slowest rate in more than a decade, and the proportion of academic leaders who consider online education just as good as in-person teaching has dropped and leveled off.

Still, the increase in online enrollment is outpacing overall enrollment growth, including to a new survey from the Babson Survey Research Group, which tracks it.

After wild enthusiasm for massive open online courses in particular—online classes with tens of thousands of students each—“Faculty acceptance has lagged, concerns about student retention linger and leaders continue to worry that online courses require more faculty effort than does face-to-face instruction,” said survey coauthor I. Elaine Allen.

More than 5.2 million students take at last one online course of any kind, up 3.7 percent, the smallest rise in the 13 years the survey has been under way.

Only a small proportion of online courses are MOOCs. But MOOCs in particular were heralded as ways to broaden access to higher education, and lower costs, before beginning to fall out of vogue.

The proportion of university academic officers who said that students learn as much online as in a classroom was 74 percent, down from a high of 77 percent in 2012. Only 28 percent said their faculty accept the “value and legitimacy of online education,” a proportion that has hardly budged since 2003. An even smaller 19 percent said they think MOOCs are a sustainable way to offer online education.

The survey was cosponsored by the Online Learning Consortium, an industry association, and by the education publishing company Pearson and the education investment and strategic consulting company Tyton Partners.

[Cross-posted at The Hechinger Report]

Jon Marcus

Jon Marcus is a higher education editor at the Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education news outlet based at Teachers College, Columbia University.