Access – increasing popular access to higher education is a major theme in the report. Appropriately there’s no discussion of institutional rankings.

One detail about access: students taking online classes often had faster time to degree.

Cost savings – wholly online learning is cheaper to offer than hybrid or face to face classes, especially when factoring in larger class sizes. “[W]e found that the savings for online courses ranged from $12 to $66 per credit hour, a difference of from 3% to 50% of the average credit hour costs.” Done right, a campus can grow… revenue while reducing operating costs – a particularly important outcome in an era of declining enrollment and dwindling public subsidies for postsecondary education.

One note about this: the report praises the “emporium model” (based on Virginia Tech’s Math Emporium) as very likely to yield cost savings (13).

Adjunctification – the report openly states what higher ed has quietly known and achieved for a generation. Reducing tenure lines and growing part-time faculty saves money. At the same time the report wants faculty engagement and some degree of governance. I’m not sure how that works, unless it refers to working with a minority of tenured faculty who work part-time to manage and support adjuncts.

Third parties – there’s a cautious endorsement for institutions to draw on external for-profits at times, largely to reduce costs of building everything in-house.

Adaptive learning and open education resources – the report approves of them in principle, but finds sample sizes too small at the present.

A few additional reflections:

I wonder how the selection of test bed schools will shape the report’s influence.
(EDITED) The definition of diversity is interesting, as it picks out gender, age, and economic class, but not race so much. This may be because nonwhite learners are less likely to take online classes than white ones:

Check out @BryanAlexander's take on a major report on digital learning from ASU

I don’t know how the report defined “nonwhite”. The term only shows up once in the report, on this chart. However, elsewhere the report finds one specific form of online learning to have an advantage for “minorities” (also undefined:

Adaptive courseware helped close achievement gaps. The use of adaptive courseware may have contributed to an observed reduction in achievement gaps for Pell Grant– eligible and minority students at Georgia State University. Minority students and Pell Grant–eligible students bene ted more from successful adaptive courseware pilots than minority and Pell Grant–eligible students enrolled in nonadaptive sections of the same courses did from their classes.

I’d really like to know more about the authors’ thinking on race and access.

If you’re interested in how they define and model ROI, head to the report’s page 15.

The Boston Consulting Group helped conduct the research. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation helped fund it. An advisory board included campus leaders, consultants, business executives, and association representatives. Besides Pugliese there were several other co-authors: Allison Bailey, Tyce Henry, Renee Laverdiere, Nithya Vaduganathan.

(thanks to Scott Robison for eagle-eyed reading)

[Editor’s Note: This blog was originally posted on Bryan Alexander’s blog on April 12, 2018.]

Check out this webinar
The Future Trends Forum is an open video conversation about the future of higher ed. Each week, a different guest—an inspiring expert, visionary, practitioner, or researcher—talks about their area of interest. Past guests include Audrey Watters, Martin Dougiamas, Anya Kamenetz, George Siemens, Casey Green, and Will Richardson. Check out past recordings here.

About the Author:

Bryan Alexander is an internationally known futurist, researcher, writer, speaker, consultant, and teacher.


Add your opinion to the discussion.