Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

Online enrollment booming in higher ed

February 22, 2010


In a down economy with many out of work, more and more college students are looking online to complete their degrees.

The Babson Survey Research Group looks at national online enrollments. Its most recent report shows that 4.6 million college students were enrolled in at least one online course in fall 2008, the most recent term for which figures are available.

That’s a 17 percent increase from a year earlier.

Greg Simpson, Kansas University’s interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, is a candidate for the permanent position. In a recent public forum he addressed online education at KU as something he’d like to see improved.

“We’ve been a little bit behind some of the other schools in Kansas,” he said. “There’s a population that I’m talking about, that can’t come to the university physically, that we can serve.”

He said issues with quality control and fee structures still need to be sorted out, and university officials are looking into some of the issues involved with expanding the program.

KU’s Continuing Education program currently offers independent study courses with online components, but it only offers individual courses — no full degree programs are included.

Enrollments in those courses are seeing a slight increase every year, said Jean Yoo, director of academic outreach and distance education for KU’s Continuing Education program.

About 2,000 people are currently taking at least one course through KU’s for-credit online independent study program, Yoo said.

She said the program enrolls a mix of students, from those already enrolled looking to complete a course that has filled up on campus to more nontraditional students who may have been laid off from a job and looking to further their education.

“I think distance education in general just offers students another option to pursue a degree they weren’t able to finish,” she said.

The program at KU offers about 120 courses in 37 academic departments, including in the schools of liberal arts and sciences, education, social welfare and music. Many of the courses are basic requirements, like introductory-level English, psychology and Western civilization classes.

In the independent study format, students are given six months to complete the work for the course. Each course features its own Web site, Yoo said, with syllabi, assignments and other course information. Final exams are proctored either in Lawrence or remotely at a site that offers the service, as many public libraries do, Yoo said.

“All of our courses are KU-quality courses,” she said. “The rigor, the robustness, it’s equivalent to what you’d find on campus.”

Also, Yoo said, many departments offer online courses on their own, independent of the Continuing Education program.

“The future is bright,” Yoo said, with the growth of online education nationally. “I think the sky’s the limit, actually. It is a growing trend.”


greenquarter 8 years, 1 month ago

This is one of my biggest criticisms of KU. Park, Baker, and Washburn--just to name a few--offer a wide variety of bachelor's and graduate degrees completely online, and they charge plenty for the privilege and convenience. In addition, from my reading of KU's tuition reimbursement benefit (at, employees do not get this benefit for online degree programs. What's KU's holdup against online education? I just don't get it. Then again, by the time KU offered online enrollment, K-State--a comparable institution as far as student population--had had it for years, as had many, many other comparable institutions. By these measures, KU lags in the technology game.

Graczyk 8 years, 1 month ago

I am an on-line education skeptic. I'll admit that I have never taken an on-line class, but I have seen data that would suggest that on-line classes are not as effective as sitting in a classroom. As a student, I worked for one of the professional programs at KU. They did not offer on-line classes, but many of their peer institutions did. While the on-line classes proved to be great money makers for the other institutions, their pass rate of state board exams was dismal as compared to those who attended the brick and mortar classes. Granted, there could be a difference in the type of student that would choose on-line classes, but trust me, you wouldn't want a poorly trained professional in this industry serving you.

SnakeFist 8 years, 1 month ago

I'm an instructor and a student and I can tell you that online classes are a joke. Instructors love them because they require almost no work - divide the book into three or four sections, and slap together exams from a publisher-provided test bank of questions. I know full-time instructors who teach as many online courses as they can in order to spend as little time as possible on campus (some work second jobs and some even run their own counseling practices during the day). Students love them for the same reason - the multiple-choice exams are invariably "open book", and there is no way to detect cheating (e.g., students working together on exams). With enough oversight, online courses could be legitimate, but that level of oversight does not exist in academia.

College requires at least a minimum level of committment; catering to the completely uncommitted via online courses diminishes the value of a college education.

alm77 8 years, 1 month ago

Snake, I completely disagree. My husband and I both are completing our educations this way and tests can be essay. Not only that, but tests can be proctored to insure honesty. Yes, I some quizzes are online, multiple choice and open book, but they are timed and if you are not familiar with the material (i.e. you've read the assigned work) you'll never finish the quiz on time, let alone get the right answers. Add that to the fact that you must participate in discussions and those are graded, and you do in fact have a quality class, not a joke.

CreatureComforts 8 years, 1 month ago

Snake - some people just cannot do regular degrees. They travel, they have families, they have jobs that make it difficult. Online education, while maybe not ideal, gives people who normally might not be able to get an opportunity for an education the ability to.

SnakeFist 8 years, 1 month ago

alm77: I agree that tests CAN be essay, and exams CAN be proctored; but I've taken five online courses as a student and that has never been the case. Again, in my experience, most instructors that teach online courses do so because its easier, so they're don't want to have to grade essay questions. And, yes, exams are often timed so you can't look up every answer, but, in my experience, there is generally time to look up at least half the answers (keep in mind, you can't look up ANY answers in most regular classes). Again, with oversight, online courses could be legitimate, but that level of oversight does not exist in academia.

CreatureComforts: If you can't prioritize earning a regular college degree, then you simply don't get one. The answer is not to offer watered-down online classes or entire degree programs. At the very least, the transcripts and diplomas should note which courses were taken online - let employers and graduate admission committees decide whether online courses are equal.

CreatureComforts 8 years, 1 month ago

Sounds like you've been lucky enough to only concentrate on school and not worry about a job or family at the same time. We haven't all been that lucky.

alm77 8 years, 1 month ago

Snake, where are you taking these classes (if you don't mind me asking)? My husband is taking his from Ft. Hays, I've done Johnson County and now a private college out of the Kansas City Metro (that may leave me no-longer-anonymous if I name it) and I know he's got some mulit-choice, but some essay as well. My math class certainly wasn't mulit-choice! Neither was my anthropology course, or (surprise, surprise) my written communication course. I'm currently taking another communications course that is 100% essay and will be taking a course on priorities/goal setting that I doubt will be.

I haven't found anything "watered down" in regard to my courses. As a matter of fact, I would say I've actually accomplished more of the assigned reading (as in, all of it) than a student in a traditional class. Unless the professors do some sort of online slide show for a lecture, it's the only thing to go on.

I think the reason KU isn't on board with online courses is because of the very myths you are perpetuating. It's not the "online" aspect of a course that is bad, it's the proliferation of "higher education" institutions that aren't reputable to begin with (Phoenix, Devry, etc.) that give them a bad name. It takes work to create a quality online course. KU could easily set up their own guidelines to adhere to in order to make sure all courses are up to their great standards.

SnakeFist 8 years, 1 month ago

CreatureComforts: Its not about luck, its about choices. No one can do everything (or, at least, no one can do everything well). When you chose to start a family and take a job that requires travel, you chose not to get a college degree - there's nothing wrong with that.

alm77: My online courses have been through Washburn. Its not "myths" I'm perpetuating, its my personal experience. I can't speak to the quality of online courses from Ft. Hays or other institutions, but I teach at JCCC and I know for a fact that the quality of their online courses is not high.

remember_username 8 years, 1 month ago

Shouldn't a liberal arts education require at least one laboratory course? Sure one can take an art history class on line, but how do you learn to paint a canvas? Imagine learning to "speak in public" via Skype, or learning astronomy without actually looking up. How can you learn Geology without touching a rock, or anatomy without holding a bone? Yes, some subjects are suitable for on-line instruction, and on-line courses are fine for GED's or continuing education, but a well rounded education cannot be obtained in a virtual world. Perhaps if the degree indicated the on-line origin in the title, like a Virtual Bachelors of Arts in "Insert Subject Here" (a VBA), I wouldn't care as much, at least an possible employer knows what they're getting.

alm77 8 years, 1 month ago

"at JCCC and I know for a fact that the quality of their online courses is not high." Is the quality of their traditional classes high? Aren't the standards for both online and in person classes pretty much the same? That's what I'm getting at. Where you go matters more than how you go.

For the record, I think the online courses I took from JCCC were pretty good, but you really can't go wrong with Anthropology, Math and Written Communication I.

remember_username, there are very few degrees you can get completely online. For example, my husband had to take a physical class for speech. Half of my courses are in person and half are online. It just depends. I would agree with you and would expect that true high quality higher education institutions wouldn't grant whole degrees in fields that a physical presence was necessary.

sad_lawrencian 8 years ago

As time goes by, higher education (what was once a classical, four-year, liberal-arts education at an away-from-home residential college campus designed primarily for students aged 18-22) has become more and more watered down. Now students are graduating high school (or otherwise quitting, dropping out or leaving early) and taking jobs, starting families, without the four-year traditional college experience. More and more people are choosing not to pursue higher education while they're young, and instead they're deciding to go back later (some as late as their 50s) and pick it up then.

The increasing watering-down of undergraduate education is troublesome. It's unfortunate that we live in state that does not have a nationally-ranked (top tier) undergraduate program, public or private. Instead of improving the state's public universities at a funding level, which would start with the Kansas legislature, the six campuses are sitting in neglect and ruin and red ink while administrators like Mr. Hammond are pushing online and "distance education" options which are in reality no more legitimate than programs offered by the "University of Phoenix" and "National American University". To the student considering such options: why not just use your computer's printer to print off a fake diploma, attach a gold seal and some forged signatures, and call it a day?

I decry the sad state of affairs for higher education in Kansas. I also bristle at Mr. Hammond's assertion that "...students are going to have to go back to a post-secondary institution three times, four times, if they’re going to stay relevant." I would like to see Mr. Hammond's data that supports this statement. Relevant? What does he mean? I completed my bachelor's degree ten years ago, and I have no plans on ever returning to a college or university again, online or otherwise. Does this make me somehow irrelevant? Surely education is a lifetime experience and one is able to learn and stay "relevant" without "attending" a fake online college-education program?

I am very proud to say that through it all, one bachelor and two master's degrees, I never once attended any online or distance-education classes. Every class I took was on-campus, with a living, breathing professor or instructor who was present in the flesh. These were the best years of my life and I would not change them for anything. I remember fondly the experiences I had in college, and I shudder to think what today's students are depriving themselves of. I wonder what is happening to the world. We need fewer people like Mr. Hammond. We need more administrators who will push the traditional undergraduate experience and sell THAT as a way to increase enrollment and open doors for all people.

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