Trends in eLearning: Tracking the Impact of eLearning at Community Colleges
April 2013, Instructional Technology Council
In Focus: The Year in Review 2013: The Great Recession Continues
Recovery from the Great Recession has been slow and elusive. Most campus administrators have survived the worst of the recession, with no further cuts made to their department funding levels, but they have only experienced meager attempts to increase budget allocations. In its recent survey report, the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) noted that, “although enrollment stabilized in 2012, the reduction in state and local support combined with an increase in inflation contributed to a nine percent decrease in state and local support per student in constant dollars from 2011. Per student support in 2012 is $5,896, the lowest level in the 25 years.”
Participants in this ITC survey reported that distance education enrollments grew by 6.52 percent from fall 2011 to fall 2012. This pace was slower than in previous years (fall 2007 to 2008 saw a 22 percent increase), but the increase distance education saw surpassed the overall 2.64 percent decline in student enrollment that the entire student population (including those enrolled in face-to-face classes) at colleges experienced.
The economic downturn has had a measurable impact on the number of students attending college. During the peak of the recession, students and workers inundated community colleges in order to enhance their job skills, while college administrators worked frantically to meet the student demand by expanding their online course and program offerings. The situation is not as frantic or dire as it was several years ago, but since tuition does not pay for all of the operation costs at a community college, the decrease in state funding has meant that colleges continue to struggle to address chronic problems of student retention, course quality, ADA compliance, faculty training, student preparedness and accreditation-based assessment.
Not surprisingly, the federal and state government’s interest in distance education has intensified, as student demand and enrollment in distance education has increased. Congress reauthorizes the Higher Education Act of 1965 every four to six years, so distance educators need to pay close attention to any new regulations Congress may attempt to put in place by 2014. Some key issues include: state authorization for institutions offering distance education to out-of-state students, financial aid fraud rings and student authentication.
The report outlines the following key events in 2012:
- The Rise of MOOCs
- Educators Convince Senate to Drop Provision to Restrict Financial Aid for Online Students
- Financial Aid Fraud Rings
- State Authorization for Institutions Offering Distance Education to Out-of-State Students
- Open Educational Resources and eTextbooks
- Student Authentication
Observations and Trends
by Fred Lokken, ITC Board of Directors, Dean, WebCollege, Truckee Meadows Community College
Since ITC began surveying its members in the fall of 2004, continuity in a number of response areas has emerged. Distance education administrators—regardless of their college’s geographic location, number of student enrollments, staffing or budget—face many of the same challenges. Some observations about trends across the past nine years follows below.
- Student demand for distance education courses at community colleges continues to grow—at a rate that is much greater than the demand for on-campus, face-to-face courses. However, the unprecedented growth of the past decade has slowed on many campuses, as overall student enrollment at many community colleges has declined due to the resurgent economy.
- As online instruction continues to mature, distance education administrators see a pressing need to address course quality and design, faculty training and preparation, course assessment, and improvements in student readiness and retention.
- Growth in the use of blended, hybrid, Web-assisted, Web-enhanced and Web-facilitated classes continues.li>
- The gap between distance learning and face-to-face student completion rates has significantly narrowed. Nearly half of the survey respondents indicated that they have achieved equivalency.
- Community college administrators are somewhat skeptical of the MOOC movement and are cautiously exploring ways to take advantage of this popular new online course model, perhaps through competency-based learning or personal learning assessment.
- Community colleges are looking for ways to use eTextbooks and open education resources to help cut the costs students face. They are also looking at ways to overcome real and perceived barriers to their use by faculty and administrators.
- The availability of virtual student services has declined in the past few years. This trend is likely due to the budget and staff reductions many community colleges have faced. Distance educators hope college administrators will see these services as a priority as budgets and staffing return to pre-recession levels, especially since accreditors increasingly expect online student services to be equivalent or superior to the college’s face-to-face, on-campus offerings.
- Many campuses continue to lack compliance with the accessibility requirements for online instruction outlined in sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.
- The learning management system (LMS) market continues to be volatile. Despite migration fatigue, nearly one third of campuses report that they intend to change their LMS in the next two years.
- Online program administration has shifted so that more academic administrators, such as deans and academic vice presidents, are responsible for distance education, rather than library services or the IT department.
- Nearly every distance education program authenticates distance learning students by requiring them to use a unique username and passcode.
Fred Lokken, associate dean for the Truckee Meadows Community College WebCollege, authored the study based on a survey completed by 142 community colleges in the fall of 2012 (out of 283 community colleges that are members of ITC).