Online education — considered by some a savior of sorts for cash-depleted universities and community colleges — actually costs more in the long run and does not deliver the goods, according to a series of reports.
The latest report concludes that efforts to expand online education into remedial and introductory classes is “misguided.”
The third in a series of reports by the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education highlights the challenges underserved students face when taking online classes. It suggests the courses they might widen the academic achievement gap among various groups.
In total, the reports examines costs and consequences of students taking many of their courses through a computer screen rather than in a classroom.
“One of the things we noticed is that there is a lot of rhetoric and promises but when you look at the facts it’s not that clear,” campaign member Susan Meisenhelder said.
One major concern is a large percentage of students (in some cases up to 90 percent) never finish the online courses they take, Meisenhelder said.
Solano Community College Vice President of Academic Affairs Diane White said 12 percent of the school’s courses are offered online. She said they do have benefits in offering more flexibility, but post challenges, too.
“It’s not for every student. It takes a very high degree of motivation,” White said. “What we’ve found is the achievement gap for students is greater in online classes than in face-to-face” classroom settings, she added.
Students must be “highly motivated” and also possess good reading skills to complete the courses, White said, adding that a high percentage drop out of the online classes.
White said it’s unclear if such courses actually save the college money, and added she is not surprised by various reports critical of them.
Napa Valley College Vice President of Instruction Faye Smyle shared similar concerns with White, according to a statement she e-mailed to the Times-Herald. She wrote online classes can be valuable for students who cannot get to the campus,.
But, she said students are more successful with these classes if they have some interaction with teachers.
Some pointed to online education as a way to solve the crisis of long waiting lists for many classes. At one time there were as many as 400,000 students on waiting lists to get into classes.
All three branches of the California system of higher education use online courses now.
Meisenhelder said the report examines online education across the country and was produced after educational advocates saw a “mad rush” of schools to implement such courses.
Such classes can cost more to produce than traditional classes where students go to a classroom and interact with an instructor, Meisenhelder said.
Another major concern the campaign has with the system are the partnerships schools form with for-profit companies to design and administer the courses, Meisenhelder said. Some firms take up to 50 percent of the fees or tuition, she said.
In expanding their own online degree programs, some public and for-profit colleges charge more for students to take these courses, she said.
The campaign also shares White and Smyle’s views that to be used most effectively, online courses should include some component for human interaction with an instructor, preferably on the campus.
Contact staff writer Sarah Rohrs at email@example.com or (707) 553-6832. Follow her on Twitter @SarahVTH.