Internal Barriers to Online Expansion

At a time when online education is seen as both a boon for cash-strapped colleges and universities and a crucial piece of the nation’s access and completion goals, institutions that are being sluggish about growing their online programs have no one to blame but themselves.

That is one of several findings of the Campus Computing Project and the second annual Managing Online Education study, a survey of 183 nonprofit, mostly public two- and four-year colleges that offer online programs, conducted by the Campus Computing Project and the Western Cooperative for Educational Telecommunications.

"If you think about barriers to expansion, people in the past have said they’re contained — that other people won’t let them do it, when in fact the data show that the barriers are internal," said Kenneth C. Green, director of the Campus Computing Project.

They can’t blame accreditors, which only 16 percent of respondents said hindered their online ambitions; they can’t blame state regulators, who hampered just 17 percent of the colleges, nor federal student aid restrictions, which foiled 22 percent. Employer bias against online degrees and certificates appears mostly to have eroded into myth, with just 13 percent of colleges reporting that as a barrier. And despite the fact that nearly 75 percent of colleges cited resistance from their own faculty members as an impediment to online expansion, only 26 percent said union contracts stood in the way.

The biggest factors holding back the expansion of online programs at the 183 responding colleges? Lack of instructors and support personnel (61 percent) and budget cuts (56 percent). In a presumably related pattern, 67 percent reported having growth plans fettered by “[s]tudent demand for online courses which exceeds capacity to provide these courses.”

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