As institutions plan for a future that includes COVID-19, a survey sheds light on what online students say are the most important things they need in an educational program

5 top priorities for online students

As institutions plan for a future that includes COVID-19, a survey sheds light on what online students say are the most important things they need in an educational program

Many colleges and universities are considering hybrid learning models as they try to plan for fall and long-term learning strategies that can adapt to student and faculty needs, according to a new survey.

The annual Online College Students report, from Wiley Education Services and in partnership with Aslanian Market Research, sheds light on online learners’ priorities to help institutions better understand and adapt their online programs to changing student behaviors. The report is based on data from students who were already enrolled or planning to enroll in online learning programs before COVID-19.

Related content: COVID-19 ushers in a new era of cybersecurity

Building programs that blend the best of online and campus-based learning could be a likely solution for institutions as they plan for the future–a future that most likely will include plans for COVID-19. The report shows more than a quarter (27 percent) of respondents were already prioritizing the option for both online and on-campus classes when choosing an online program prior to COVID-19.

“There is little doubt that online learning will be meeting the needs of increasing numbers of college students of all ages as they attempt to cope with dramatic life changes in the months and years ahead,” says Carol Aslanian, president and founder of Aslanian Market Research. “More and more students will be seeking convenient, efficient, readily accessible and cost-effective ways to gain the skills needed in an evolving work environment.”

Top priorities of current online students remain affordability, school reputation and a quick path to completion. When asked the most important factors when choosing a school, respondents listed the below as top considerations.

• Affordable programs: More than half of students (51 percent) cite affordability as their most important factor when evaluating online programs. However, for many students, quality trumps cost. Sixty-four percent of students are willing to pay more in tuition if they feel they are gaining something from it.

• Schools and programs with good reputations: Thirty-six percent of students listed reputation as a critical consideration when choosing a program. Cultivating a good reputation also has long-term effects, as 22 percent of graduated students surveyed have or planned to refer someone to their school.

• Quick paths to degrees: Twenty-eight percent of respondents cited quick degree pathways as important when considering programs. This should include ease when transferring credits, as 15 percent of respondents found transferring previous credits to be the most challenging part of their enrollment process.

• Proximity to their homes: Nearly a quarter of respondents listed proximity to home as a key consideration when selecting an online program. Seventy-five percent of online learners surveyed chose a school within 50 miles of their home address – an insight particularly interesting on the heels of the novel coronavirus.

• Students want to learn on-the-go: Seventy-four percent of students in online programs want to use their mobile devices, such as smartphones or tablets, to help them progress through their courses.

The perceived value of online education is high. Overall, 78 percent of those who completed their online degrees agree or strongly agree that it was worth the cost.

The Online College Students report demonstrates that universities have opportunities to navigate impacts caused by COVID-19 and potential disruptions in the future.

“The radical shift to virtual learning during COVID-19, made possible by the heroic efforts of faculty, was critical to helping students continue their education, but should not be considered a true or sustainable online learning solution,” says Todd Zipper, president of Wiley Education Services. “The most successful online programs are carefully crafted by faculty and course designers who follow best practices for organizing courses, presenting content, empowering faculty and leveraging technology to encourage active engagement. As all colleges are planning for a very different fall semester and beyond, the Online College Students report helps chart a path forward.”

Material from a press release was used in this report.

Laura Ascione