Over 4.6 million students took online courses in fall 2008, a 17 percent increase over the previous year, according to a report from the Sloan Consortium with research undertaken by Babson. This increase is more than 10 times the growth of the entire higher education population, which increased only 1.2 percent during that period. "Online education continues to establish itself as demand remains strong and new applications materialize, such as contingency planning for campus emergencies," said Frank Mayadas, special advisor, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which funded the study. "We believe demand will fuel sustained growth especially within public universities and community colleges, raising the need to share research, optimal methods for faculty training, and other best practices to new levels of importance," Mayadas said.

More than one-quarter of college and university students take courses online. In 2002, only 9.6 percent did.

While the economic climate has driven demand for all courses, the demand for online courses greatly outweighs the demand for face-to-face classes.

Budgets are shrinking across the country and schools are finding themselves in the position of having to cut faculty and staff while at the same time facing higher enrollment figures, a situation in which nobody wins. The increased workloads put pressure on the faculty and staff and the increased class sizes lessen the chance of student success.
Online education is obviously one solution. Online courses can lessen teachers’ workloads by reducing their preparation and teaching time while increasing students’ chance of success with online office hours, reduced travel time and flexible scheduling.

The report also highlights how online courses can be part of a college or university’s H1N1 contingency plan. Sixty-seven percent of the schools that have contingency plans include substituting face-to-face courses with online ones.

By Mark Alvarez