Black Colleges Expand Distance Learning

Increasing numbers of institutions -- especially public institutions -- offer programs, survey finds.
March 1, 2007

More historically black colleges -- especially in the public sector -- are offering distance education.

A new survey released by the Digital Learning Lab of Howard University reports that 40 of 103 historically black colleges and universities are offering distance courses this year, up from 29 a year ago. While the percentages of colleges offering distance education vary by sector, they tend to be well over half, according to data from the Sloan Consortium. Nonetheless, the Howard survey suggests significant progress for black colleges in entering the distance ed arena.

The gains for black colleges are unequal, according to the survey, with public institutions showing far more interest than private institutions. Two-thirds of public black colleges are offering distance programs, compared to only 12 percent of private institutions. In addition, the report found relatively little distance education activity among those black institutions -- which tend to be private -- with the highest graduation rates. Among those institutions, only Hampton University offers a full degree online.

In some cases, the public-private gap may relate to institutional mission. As is the case with colleges in many sectors of higher education, some of the institutions with the biggest investments are those that focus on adult and nontraditional college students. The Howard study notes that many historically black colleges that are private and focus on undergraduates stress in their mission statements and their promotional materials an emphasis on character building and close student-faculty contact, as well as the experience of being on the campus.

While the report notes that those values may deter some historically black colleges from moving into distance education, it notes that other trends may make it not only feasible but a social good for other black colleges to start or expand distance offerings.

"Given the disturbingly high dropout/low enrollment rates of African American male students, it is imperative that HBCU's make special efforts to provide this particular group with accessible opportunities to complete their education," the report says.


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