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Can Online Education Help Students Graduate on Time?

May 22, 2013 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

Approximately half of all US undergrads show up on campus for the first time needing to take remedial classes before they start in on earning a degree. Those extra credits can be costly, however—both for the students and for the school. Adding remedial classes can add to student debt, increase the time spent in school, and add to the burden of studying.

However, public schools—where the problem is most acute—also face another problem: smaller state budgets and reduced funding. This has meant schools have had to reduce the number of students they can enroll—and increase tuition for the students who do get accepted.

See Also: Online Degree Programs

Some universities are starting to experiment with online education in order to alleviate that problem—especially “Massive Open Online Classes,” or MOOC’s. The idea is that MOOC’s can make delivery of instruction cheaper and more accessible to students. This can reduce the cost of delivery for schools—and possibly the cost of taking remedial classes for students who need them.

See Also: Online Courses and Online College Courses

MOOC’s are not without challenges of their own, however. Depending on which reports you read, approximately 90% of students who start a MOOC course drop out by the end*. There are many potential reasons for this—including the idea that students enrolled in MOOC’s are not ready for college-level work.

Still, some colleges are hoping to boost the retention rate for their MOOC programs by adding additional support—such as 24-hour online mentors and a shift toward a more blended learning environment that includes both online classes and in-person classroom instruction and support.

MOOC’s are definitely making inroads into traditional education. For instance, the pro tem president of the California Senate brought forward legislation allowing students who are blocked from enrolling in overcrowded entry-level classes at public universities to take online courses from private companies, such as Udacity, for college credit.

In addition, colleges such as San Jose State have started bringing blended edX courses onto campus—including courses marketed from Harvard and Berkeley. It plans to implement a course in circuitry from MIT over the summer.

Perhaps most significantly, the American Council on Education announced it is recommending five courses from Coursera—a private company offering MOOC’s from several different universities nationwide—to be offered for credit at traditional and accredited online schools. Many colleges use the American Council on Education’s guidelines to determine their policies in this area, so this development could result in significant expansion in MOOC’s for college credit.

So far, colleges that are implementing MOOC’s on campus tend to prefer a blended model for higher-level courses and a strictly online model for students in lower-level classes, where more students can be reached at lower cost to both the student and the school. However, lower-level students often are the ones who need the most support—and it will be up to colleges to figure out the type of support that boosts retention rates and brings in real graduation rate results.

Predictions that MOOC’s will quickly surpass traditional online education are perhaps a bit premature. But it’s likely that they will have an influence on how instruction is delivered at the college level, particularly in introductory classes. It’s possible that MOOC’s can ultimately dramatically reduce the costs of providing a strong education to students, while increasing access. However, colleges will need to develop ways to reduce the current retention problems the courses have—and this may result in more costly in-person support that could limit the impact of MOOC’s on cost control and access. Hopefully, however, the change will be positive—and result in more students earning their degrees on time.




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