Using online courses to increase class sizes without compromising retention


The University of Texas at Arlington has seen an increase in online students.

Bolstering student retention rates while growing enrollment numbers is possible through a strategic deployment of online classes, according to a new report.

A New America Foundation report, “Next Generation Universities,” released May 21, said other schools would be wise to follow the lead set by schools that have seen enrollments increase without the dip in retention that so often comes with more students.

The foundation suggests increasing the size of an institution and testing out new pedagogical ideas. Many of the universities highlighted in the report have increased the size of their classes without negatively affecting retention.

For example, the University of Texas at Arlington is using online courses and academic partnerships to now enroll more than 5,000 nursing school students. In fact, 27 percent of Arlington’s growing student body is enrolled solely online.

Meanwhile, the University of Central Florida has used online technologies to help with a burgeoning demand for its courses. About 2,700 of the university’s students are enrolled simultaneously in an online, mixed-mode or face-to-face class during a semester.

Thirty-two percent of courses there are now online, the report said. If the courses were in a physical location, they would require five classroom buildings.

At first glance, Arlington and Central Florida have little in common with each other or to Arizona State University, the University of California – Riverside, Georgia State University, and University at Buffalo, the other schools highlighted in the report. The six universities span the width of the entire country, with varying enrollment counts as high as 73,000 and as low as 28,000.

See Page 2 for how these universities can become models for higher education.

The overlap comes in the goal they all share: confronting American higher education’s most pressing financial and equality issues head-on. Their work has created a template to be emulated, the report said.

At the state level, the report encourages states and university systems to focus on providing aid based on need, not just on merit. It asks that public research universities pay less attention to increasing their prestige and instead on increasing enrollment. The foundation suggests creating policies that would more easily allow for the transfer of large numbers of students from community colleges.

At the national level, the foundation predicted that in the next decade higher education could face a crisis of leadership.

“The median age of the college president is 61, and with many expected to retire in the coming years, the pipeline to the presidency is running dry, especially at regional public colleges,” the report noted. It also encouraged the media to pay more attention to universities that are working outside of the box to improve higher education, granting publicity to innovations that may be ignored by more traditional college rankings and awards.

“Each sits within a distinct state context, with differences in public funding, local demographics, governance arrangements and more,” the report said. “But while the strategies employed by these universities are not identical, there are many similarities between their approaches. In combination, they provide a template for building the Next Generation University.”

eCampus News Staff