“Although institutions know that the rising enrollments in their online programs are generating revenues, they just don’t know if these programs are really making money,” Green said in a statement. “Many campuses have a very hard time with the kind of cost accounting required to assess real profits from online education.”

A nationwide survey published last year by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, titled “Staying the Course: Online Education in the United States,” said 22 percent of American college students took at least one web-based class in the fall 2007 semester, or 3.94 million students. That marked an increase of 12.9 percent from the fall 2006 semester.

During the same period, overall higher-education enrollment increased by only 1.2 percent, according to the report, which surveyed officials from more than 2,500 colleges and universities. In fall 2002–the Sloan Foundation report’s first year–1.6 million students were taking at least one online class, meaning 9 percent of college students were taking online classes. That number eclipsed 2 million in 2004 and topped 3 million in 2005.

The nationwide embrace of web-based curricula, Green said, is a positive sign for education-technology advocates who have pushed for acceptance of college degrees earned online–even if online classes equal or exceed the costs of in-person education.

“The enrollment data … document the official ‘arrival’ of online education,” he said. “These data confirm that campuses confront new operational and managerial challenges as online education moves from the periphery to become a much larger and more significant component of the instructional portfolio for many institutions.”

The survey shows that technology training for faculty members has become more commonplace in higher education. More than half of respondents said faculty who teach web-based courses are required to take technology training. The average mandatory training program lasts 27.5 hours, according to the report.


WCET/Campus Computing Project survey

Sloan Consortium survey

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