Distance Ed Continues Rapid Growth at Community Colleges

While Blackboard dominates course-management market at 2-year colleges, more institutions are looking elsewhere.
April 7, 2008

Community colleges reported an 18 percent increase in distance education enrollments in a 2007 survey released this weekend at the annual meeting of the American Association of Community Colleges, in Philadelphia.

The survey on community colleges and distance education is an annual project of the Instructional Technology Council, an affiliate of the AACC. The survey is based on the responses of 154 community colleges, selected to provide a representational sample of all community colleges. Last year’s survey found community colleges reporting an increase in distance education enrollments of 15 percent.

This year's survey suggests that distance education has probably not peaked at community colleges. First there is evidence that the colleges aren't just offering a few courses online, but entire programs. Sixty-four percent of institutions reported offering at least one online degree -- defined as one where at least 70 percent of the courses may be completed online. Second, colleges reported that they aren't yet meeting demand. Seventy percent indicated that student demand exceeds their online offerings.

The top challenge reported by colleges in terms of dealing with students in distance education was that they do not fill out course evaluations. In previous surveys, this has not been higher than the fifth greatest challenge. This year's survey saw a five percentage point increase -- to 45 percent -- in the share of colleges reporting that they charge an extra fee for distance education courses.

Training professors has been a top issue for institutions offering distance education. Of those in the survey of community colleges, 71 percent required participation (up from 67 percent a year ago and 57 percent the year before). Of those requiring training, 60 percent require more than eight hours.

Several of the written responses some colleges submitted suggested frustration with professors. One such comment (included anonymously in the report) said: "Vocal conservative faculty members with little computer experience can stymie efforts to change when expressing a conviction that student learning outcomes can only be achieved in a face-to-face classroom -- even though they have no idea what can be accomplished in a well-designed distance education course." Another response said that: "Our biggest challenge is getting faculty to participate in our training sessions. We understand their time is limited, but we need to be able to show them the new tools available...."

In last year's survey, 84 percent of institutions said that they were customers of either Blackboard or WebCT (now a part of Blackboard), but 31 percent reported that they were considering a shift in course management platforms. This year's survey suggests that some of them did so. The percentage of colleges reporting that they use Blackboard or WebCT fell to 77 percent. Moodle showed the largest gains in the market -- increasing from 4 to 10 percent of the market -- while Angel and Desire2Learn also showed gains.

The survey also provides an update on the status of many technology services for students, showing steady increases in the percentage of community colleges with various technologies and programs.

Status of Services for Online Students at Community Colleges

Service Currently Offer Offered a Year Ago
Campus testing center for distance students 73% 69%
Distance ed specific faculty training 96% 92%
Online admissions 84% 77%
Online counseling / advising 51% 43%
Online library services 96% 96%
Online plagiarism evaluation 54% 48%
Online registration 89% 87%
Online student orientation for distance classes 75% 66%
Online textbook sales 72% 66%


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