Traditional and Online College Nearly Equal –

For years, proponents of online learning had to swim upstream to dispel the misconceptions that online classes were simply watered down versions of traditional in-person courses. Perceptions have changed as demand and acceptance of online courses grows among students and university leaders.

According to a Pew Research Group study, more than 75% of the nation’s colleges and universities are offering online courses. Students are also embracing the convenience, as the study reported that nearly half of all college students who graduated in the last decade have taken at least one online course.

The study was the result of research from both the Pew Research Group, which surveyed 2,142 adults’ perceptions of online learning, and the Chronicle of Higher Education, which posed similar questions to presidents at 1,055 colleges and universities nationwide.

College presidents are increasingly seeing the bigger picture and potential of online learning. The report indicated that 51% of college presidents surveyed said online education provides the same value as traditional brick-and-mortar courses. University leaders at public institutions are more likely to support the addition of online courses to curriculum than private universities.

Nearly 90% of public four-year universities surveyed offer online classes, and 50% of those college presidents said online and in-person courses offer the same level of education. Whereas 60% of private universities surveyed offer online courses, only 36% of the private institution presidents said online courses equal campus classes.

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Despite the improving sentiment from college presidents, the public is a little slower to see online and face-to-face courses on level playing fields. Only 29% of the 2,142 adults surveyed said that taking an online course offers the same level of education as on-campus classes. That perception hasn’t hurt enrollment in online courses. According to a Babson Survey Research Group and College Board joint study, enrollment in at least one online college course increased 21% from fall 2008 to fall 2009, but total college enrollment only grew 1.2%.

While the majority of colleges and universities are offering online courses, only 60% of the surveyed institutions offer degree programs entirely online. Again, public universities outnumber private schools in this category, with 66% of universities that offer online courses and online degree programs being public and 47% being private. Only 15% of the surveyed students who have taken online courses have earned their degree exclusively.

The prevalence of online learning is expected to continue on the growth curve. Currently 15% of presidents estimate that more than nearly half of their current undergraduates have taken online courses, but 50% of presidents expect that the overwhelming majority of students will take part of their required courses online.