Private universities lag behind in online courses

Private universities are lagging, sometimes drastically, behind public universities when it comes to online learning, a new report said.

About one in four schools earn between $1 and $5 million in annual revenue from online courses.

There are an estimated 3 million American students who take online courses. That’s 14 percent of the entire student population. Nearly half of those students take online courses at public non-profit universities, according a survey conducted by Learning House Inc. and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU).

Only two out of 10 students take online courses at private non-profit universities. The remaining 35 percent choose for-profit online colleges.

“Public universities have been quick to adapt to the new technology and develop online programs true to their mission to provide public access to higher education,” the report’s authors wrote.

Private universities have been slower to embrace online learning than their public counterparts.

When the private historically black college Howard University announced a new online initiative earlier this year, it became the largest online learning project of its kind ever attempted by a historically black college or university (HBCU), in part because of so many HBCUs being private institutions.

See Page 2 for details on the financial upside to embracing online learning.

According to a study released in June 2013 by the Digital Learning Lab at Howard University, only six of the 55 private universities designated as HBCUs offer blended and online degree programs. That number hasn’t changed since 2010.

But there could now be a shift happening among some private universities, with private, “elite” schools leading the way in initiatives like massive open online courses (MOOCs) and free course materials like MIT OpenCourseWare.

However, these methods are coming decades after some public universities began experimenting with simpler online offerings.

Half of public universities now offer five or more fully online programs, the report said. Only 15 percent of private universities have reached that level of online learning.

The report also revealed that there can be more motivation to embrace online learning than just improving access to education. Twenty-three percent of universities that responded to the survey said that they are earning between $1 and $5 million in revenue per year from the online courses.

Twelve percent of the respondents said they are earning greater than $5 million in revenue from the courses. These percentages are likely to be even higher, as 41 percent of the universities said they don’t track revenue from online courses.

“Those who are able to calculate revenue specifically from online are finding that online courses can be quite lucrative,” the authors wrote.

Follow Jake New on Twitter at @eCN_Jake.

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