- According to new federal data, the number of college students taking online classes continues to grow, reports Inside Higher Ed. In academic year 2016, 6.34 million students were enrolled in at least one online course, compared with 5.99 million students in 2015.
- Even as overall enrollment at postsecondary institutions is flat (unlike recent numbers from the National Student Clearinghouse, the federal data show enrollments staying roughly constant, not declining), online enrollments climb.
- Enrollment dipped for a few universities with large online programs — especially those offered by for-profits — but most experienced a online student enrollment boost.
Both the new data regarding online course and increased student enrollment at universities are strong signs of online education’s growing influence. There’s hope that online education will solve some of higher education’s big entrenched problems of high costs, limited access and sagging degree completion.
But for now, however, facts-on-ground suggest that the promise of online education has far to go before it can become reality. Recent research by the The Brookings Institution and Stanford University researchers found that many students enrolled in online programs “performed worse” than students in face-to-face courses. A Brookings report stated that in their current design, online courses are difficult, especially for the students who are the least prepared.
Still, the diverse world of online education is difficult to judge by any single snapshot. As New America reported in its coverage of the Stanford study, “the conclusions can’t necessarily be extrapolated out to include every online program, particularly for students who attend online programs through mostly brick-and-mortar institutions.”
There also are 31 million adult learners who need affordable, flexible and accessible education if higher ed leaders are up to the challenge. Right now, both traditional and online education have failed to crack the code on how to best educate this population.