Does online education put traditional universities at a ‘grave risk’?

In the excerpt from The Innovative University, the authors point out that traditional schools “have unique competitive advantages,” including “mentoring [young students] in a special community of scholars” and “physical campuses … built at great expense.”

The traditional university learning environment is not “invaluable,” however, with “new competitive alternatives” gaining traction.

“…That puts traditional universities at a grave risk, their unique physical and human assets notwithstanding,” the authors wrote. “For the vast majority of institutions, fundamental change is essential.”

Public perception of online college classes has gradually shifted since the early 2000s.

Sixty-six percent of respondents to a recent survey said online college classes were “the same or superior” to face-to-face classes, up from 57 percent in 2003, according to Babson College’s annual survey of online education in the U.S.

Three in four respondents from public colleges and universities agreed that online college classes were equivalent to or better than a traditional education.

Also, more campus decision makers than ever agree that online instruction is “critical to the long-term strategy” of their institution.

Sixty-three percent said online college classes were a central piece to their planning, marking a 14-percent jump since the survey was first taken in 2002.

The Babson survey isn’t without its caveats, however. Accommodating a massive influx of students looking for online college classes could prove untenable for many publicly funded schools that project more budget cuts in the coming years, Babson researchers said.

“There may be some clouds on the horizon,” said Elaine Allen, co-director of the Babson Survey Research Group. “While the sluggish economy continues to drive enrollment growth, large public institutions are feeling budget pressure and competition from the for-profit sector institutions.”

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