Online Classes Boom
A July 11th New York Times article, High Cost of Driving Ignites Online Classes Boom, reaffirms other data sources that point to increased participation in online classes. This time, though, the cause is increased gas prices. Students, including those who were reluctant, are flocking to enroll in online college classes. “Gas prices have pushed people over the edge,” says Bucks County Community College director of online learning. At Buck, online enrollments are up 35% over last year.
The data are similar at other colleges around the nation. Bristol Community College in Massachusetts reports a 114% increase in online enrollment. Four-year colleges University of Massachusetts (46%) and Villanova (40%) are also seeing surges in enrollment. David Gray, chief executive of UMass Online, summarizing discussions at an educators’ conference said, “There was broad agreement that gas price increases will be a source of continued growth in online enrollments.”
Online learning won’t be putting traditional face-to-face classes out of business. However, it does offer an alternative both to “nonconsumers” and to those who might not be served otherwise. However, we are still in an early-phase run-up to the tipping point. A variety of factors need to be addressed before online learning can reach critical mass.
Distance education is no silver bullet that can alone solve the challenges posed for higher education by rising gasoline prices, officials warned.
For one thing, many students, especially in rural areas, lack the high-speed Internet connections on which online courses depend.
“The infrastructure doesn’t exist to give all rural students clear online access,” said Stephen G. Katsinas, a professor at the University of Alabama. “Rural America is where the digital divide is most dramatic.”
Furthermore, most colleges still offer only a fraction of their courses over the Internet. Bucks County Community College, for instance, will offer 414 credit courses during the fall term. Only 103 of those will be offered online, and another 48 as hybrid courses, that is, partly online but with some campus visits required. So most students will still need to come to campus.
More from our reading, Disrupting Class, next time.