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According to a recent Babson Survey Research Group report, the number of students taking at least one online course has now reached 7.1 million. The proportion of higher education students in this category has reached an all-time high of 33.5 percent taking at least one online course. “Grade Change – Tracking Online Education in the United States” is the eleventh annual report and draws on responses from more than 2,800 colleges and universities. A previous Babson survey on the same subject stated there were 6.7 million students taking online courses in the fall of 2011.

Nearly all of the surveyed chief academic leaders remain “strong believers” about the continued growth of students taking at least one online course. Ninety percent of leaders said that it is “likely” or “very likely” that the majority of higher education students will fall into this category.

While there were some slight decreases in the area concerning academic leaders attitudes towards online education effectiveness, all of the decrease is attributed to leaders at institutions without online offerings. Those who thought learning outcomes in online education to be the same or superior to face-to-face instruction saw a drop from 77 percent in 2012, to 74 percent in 2013.

Whether or not an institution offers online courses can be distinguished by a few indicators. The biggest barrier has been resource constraints on smaller populated institutions. Those with fewer than 1,500 students made up the largest proportion of schools that had no online offerings. There were very few surveyed institutions with over 3,000 students that did not offer courses online.

The 2013 survey reportedly broke away from typical patterns seen in previous Babson reports. In the past, institutions displayed similar patterns in the same direction of change. If one group noted an improvement on a particular index, all other groups would show a similar degree of improvement, according to the report. While the overall level of agreement varies, patterns of change would remain similar. This year’s survey broke that cycle.

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