Online college enrollment continues to increase, with support from higher education institutions dropping. The number of students enrolled in online courses has reached 5.8 million nationally, supporting a growth trend that we have seen for the past 13 years.
Though higher institutions are aware that online learning needs to be a part of their longer term strategy, not all faculty members agree on how important this type of learning is. Are online courses as valuable as attending class in person? Do online discussions hold as much weight as in-classroom ones? Are online educators as effective as those who speak in front of students?
Published by The Learning House, the fifth annual Online College Students 2016: Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences report takes an in-depth look at the demographics, expectations and academic preferences of college students of the past, present and future. The purpose of this report is to better understand the changing needs of college students and dispel common myths.
5 Myths About Higher EDU Online Classes
Let’s review five myths about online higher education and why these universal assumptions can be dropped for good.
Myth #1. Students need substantial financial incentives to consider enrolling at a university.
Cost is the number one consideration when choosing an institution, and has remained so for the last 2 years. Though students are concerned over cost, they don’t need substantial incentives to sway their decision. Small incentives in the form of a $500 scholarship can make all the difference in the school they select.
What’s more important to students is that the institution is willing to work with them to make the program affordable. Offering small incentives is an excellent way to show a willingness to help the student. You can always offer something additional – money toward the campus bookstore – if you see that the student is almost ready to convert but still on the fence.
Myth #2. College campuses are losing their importance.
One would assume that the need to be on campus is diminishing in importance. After all, the key benefit to online learning is that students can earn a degree from the convenience of their home. Having to be present on campus just isn’t necessary – or is it?
The study found that 75% of online students visited their campus at least once during the year. Could some of these students have visited because they had to? Sure. But it’s more likely that students made a trip out because they were interested in what they were a part of. Experiencing the campus culture provides substance and validity to a program that is otherwise all digital.
While online college courses do offer the convenience of studying anywhere, most students agree that they don’t mind coming to the campus. However, they want the freedom to come and go as they please. With this in mind, all students deserve a “place” on campus. A potential solution is to create unique experiences from the home environment that directly benefit the campus.
For example, what internship, volunteer activities and service learning opportunities are available? Are there campus buildings that online students can take advantage of, such as laboratories, practice rooms and computer-supported classrooms? Even offering small spaces for scheduled or unscheduled activities can be helpful in giving online learners a place to go.
Myth #3. Online students are mostly older adults returning to school.
Since 2013, the average age of online students has decreased, directly discounting this myth. The percentage of online students aged 18-24 has doubled since 2012, and students are more likely to be both single and childless.
Many of the reasons why older adults prefer online courses are the same for young adults, too. Balance is a main factor for attending an online program, as students are able to juggle work, family and school responsibilities more easily.
With the cost of a higher education, many young adults find themselves working part-time jobs. If they take classes online, they have the flexibility to earn money and not live the typical broke lifestyle of a college student. Some students – and their parents – also enjoy the financial freedom and flexibility that comes with living at home compared to in a residence hall.
Myth #4. Students are indecisive when choosing a college.
Online students make decisions relatively quickly, which is good news for colleges that want faster conversions. Part of this comes from the fact that students don’t have as many factors to consider. As long as they are satisfied with the program and what it offers, they don’t have to take time visiting colleges, touring residence living options, deciding where they may get a part-time position and so on.
According to the report, students expect the admissions and enrollment processes for online schools to be quick and efficient. Sixty-eight percent of online learners chose a school in four weeks or less, 18 percent chose one in five to eight weeks and 7 percent made their decision in seven to 12 weeks. Additionally, online students looked at an average of only three schools. Twenty percent only considered one school.
Myth #5. Education is one of the top areas of study for students.
Business continues to be the top program for graduate studies, though education is no longer holding the No. 2 spot. Computer science and IT has recently seen a spike in popularity – with 20 percent of students choosing this field compared to 14 percent for education. Business holds the top spot at 26 percent.
So what makes computer science and IT a popular major?
Part of the reason is because of financial incentives, higher employment rates and job security. Though the broader economy is seen as recovering, many agree that technology is strong. It’s also worth noting that students today want a job where they can make a difference in the world. Technology allows people to leave their imprint through outlets like social media and mobile apps.
As higher EDU marketers, we often spend a lot of time thinking about what college students like and dislike. The Learning House report breaks down these assumptions and helps us better understand what prospective college students really want in an online program, and how this may affect what it is offered on a traditional campus.
Nevertheless, it’s obvious that college students thrive off the same experiences and opportunities, whether they’re learning from home or from school. Higher institutions that can offer financial incentives, flexibility and cohesive learning environments will see the greatest success in the years to come.