The number of historically black colleges offering online- and blended-degree programs is increasing, although it is still only a minority of the institutions that do so, according to a new report. 
The report, released Tuesday by the Digital Learning Lab of Howard University, found that 24 of the nation’s 105 HBCUs -- about 23 percent -- offer online- or blended-degree programs, an increase from 19 institutions -- about 18 percent -- in November 2010, the last time the lab released a similar report.
According to the report, partnerships with online service providers -- ranging from big-name Pearson to the smaller HBCUs Online -- accounted for most of this increase. Providers offer funding and logistical support for fledgling online programs in exchange for a negotiated share of tuition revenue.
The report found that 11 of the 24 institutions offering online programs partnered with an online service provider, and three of the five HBCUs new to the online market worked with a provider.
Roy Beasley, director of Howard University’s online program and author of the report, said this trend toward working with providers started just before he released the 2010 report, when provider EOServ had three HBCU clients. Now it works with six. “The strategic partner was there two years ago, and now it’s much stronger.
He said faculty members can’t be expected to produce high-quality online platforms, because it’s not their area of expertise: “Going with a partner, I think you have a better chance of turning out something that’s higher quality,” he said. “Kids are used to seeing something slick on their screens, like a Ne-Yo video or a Rihanna video.”
Size Doesn’t Matter
According to the report, 8 of the 10 largest HBCUs -- 80 percent -- offer online or blended degrees, while only 16 of the remaining 95 institutions -- 17 percent -- offered those programs.
And Beasley said with the advent of online providers, size doesn’t give much of an advantage in terms of developing online programs, because institutions are concerned about quality -- something no amount of money or expert faculty can bring without knowledge of effective online platforms.
“Money is not an object; size is not an impediment,” he said.
Howard University already offers an online M.B.A. in partnership with Embanet-Compass. He said he hopes the university will have more programs launched by spring 2013 -- but this time they will be partnering with a yet-undisclosed provider.
The report also found that more public HBCUs -- 18 of 51, or about 35 percent -- offered online programs than private institutions -- six of 54, or about 11 percent. No new private institutions came online since 2010.
According to the report, the HBCU offerings mirror findings from several surveys conducted in the past decade -- in 2003, 2004, 2006 and 2007 -- by the Babson Survey Research Group  of Babson College, a private institution in Massachusetts, which found that public institutions offered a larger share of the nation’s online courses than private institutions.