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Online Ed Trends at Community Colleges

May 18, 2011

Community colleges reported a 9 percent increase in their distance education enrollments from fall 2009 to fall 2010, according to a national survey of two-year institutions released Tuesday by the Instructional Technology Council, an affiliated council of the American Association of Community Colleges.

This increase is higher than the 7 percent increase in overall student enrollment in all of higher education and the 8 percent increase at community colleges during the same time period.

Survey respondents identified several factors that contributed to this growth. Thirty-nine percent noted that this was “typical growth for distance education classes.” Thirty-seven percent attributed the growth to the “downturn in the economy.” Twelve percent cited a “new enrollment initiative.”

There was also growth in the offering of “online degree programs,” which the survey defines as “a course of study in which at least 70 percent of coursework needed to complete the degree is available online.” Eighty-one percent of the colleges surveyed reported that they offer at least one “online degree.” This is a 6 percent increase over the previous year.

Hybrid courses, or those taught with in-person and online elements, also experienced growth. Twenty-one percent of respondents offered hybrid courses. This figure is up 15 percent from the preceding year.

There was also an increase in the percentage of institutions with non-credit offerings online. Seventy-three percent of the community colleges surveyed noted that they offer noncredit online classes. This is up 9 percent from the year before.

For the seventh year in a row, distance education program administrators at community colleges ranked “the need for support staff for training and technical assistance” as their number one challenge. This year, their number two challenge was “adequate assessment of distance education” and their number three was “adequate student services for distance education.”

Still, the survey report notes that, in spite of tough economic times, “colleges have consistently increased their efforts to offer online students a broad array of services.”

Student Services and Technology Support at Community Colleges

Service/Technology Currently offer Plan to offer in next year Plan to offer in two or more years No plan to offer
  2010 2009 2005 2010 2009 2005 2010 2009 2010 2009
Audio/video streaming 77 % 74 % 46 % 9 % 4 % 20 % 7 % 11 % 7 % 6 %
Campus testing center for distance education students 81 % 76 % 69 % 5 % 1 % 3 % 1 % 5 % 12 % 13 %
Dedicated Web site for distance education program and students 88 % 90 % 80 % 4 % 4 % 6 % 1 % 1 % 7 % 1 %
Distance education-specific faculty training 95 % 90 % 92 % 4 % 4 % 4 % 0 % 1 % 1 % 1 %
Help Desk and technical support for distance education faculty 94 % 91 % 91 % 2 % 2 % 5 % 2 % 2 % 1 % 1%
Help Desk and technical support for distance education students 93 % 89 % 86 % 2 % 5 % 11 % 2 % 1 % 2 % 1 %
Online admission to institution 94 % 85 % 77 % 4 % 5 % 14 % 1 % 5 % 1 % 1 %
Online counseling and advising services 60 % 57 % 49 % 17 % 21 % 27 % 14 % 13 % 9 % 5 %
Online information and application for financial aid 86 % 86 % 80 % 6 % 7 % 15 % 5 % 3 % 2 % 1 %
Online library services and resources 94 % 94 % 98 % 4 % 1 % 1 % 1 % 0 % 1 % 1 %
Online payment of tuition and fees 93 % 87 % 77 % 5 % 4 % 15 % 1 % 3 % 1 % 3 %
Online plagiarism evaluation 53 % 54 % 40 % 23 % 13 % 25 % 11 % 9 % 13 % 20 %
Online registration for classes 94 % 91 % 86 % 2 % 2 % 9 % 2 % 1 % 1 % 1 %
Online student course evaluation 85 % 87 % 83 % 8 % 4 % 11 % 4 % 4 % 4 % 1 %
Online student organization, Web site and services 54 % 44 % 42 % 21 % 14 % 20 % 13 % 17 % 13 % 20 %
Online student orientation for distance education classes 79 % 70 % 75 % 16 % 17 % 17 % 2 % 5 % 2 % 4 %
Online textbook sales 75 % 73 % 70 % 8 % 9 % 7 % 5 % 4 % 13 % 9 %
Online tutoring assistance 71 % 65 % 44 % 17 % 13 % 15 % 9 % 8 % 4 % 10 %
Campus Web portal 73 % 62 % NA 14 % 9 % NA 6 % 12 % 7 % 13 %
Audio Podcasting 69 % 63 % NA 20 % 13 % NA 4 % 9 % 8 % 11 %
Vodcasting 59 % 53 % NA 24 % 17 % NA 1 % 14 % 6 % 11 %

Completion rates for students in online courses still lag behind those enrolled in “traditional face-to-face courses,” 69 percent compared to 75 percent. The survey also finds that enrollment in online courses is split 50-50 between those 18-25 years old and those 26 or older.

In learning management system usage, Blackboard maintained its dominance of the sector. Forty-five percent of respondents noted using Blackboard, WebCT or Angel Learning. (Blackboard purchased Angel Learning in 2009 and WebCT in 2006.) The company’s dominance could be slipping, though. Blackboard’s market share is down six percentage points from last year. In 2008, Blackboard and WebCT controlled 56 percent of the market, according to this survey. Also, thirty-eight percent of the colleges reported that they were “considering switching their LMS platform in the next few years.”

Looking to the future, the survey finds that most distance education programs at community colleges still fall short, indicating that further growth could be on the way. Sixty-eight percent of the colleges surveyed reported that “demand exceeds their distance education class offerings.”

 

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