Lines Blurring Between Online and On-Campus Students

Fully online colleges are becoming more of an option for rising college freshmen. In fact, the percentage of high school juniors and seniors planning to attend fully online colleges has doubled since before the pandemic.

After mixed results with remote learning, last fall two-thirds of traditional-aged students were expecting a fully-on campus experience. Additional data from a recent EDUCAUSE survey found that 41% of current students preferred all their courses meet fully or mostly face-to-face. Approximately 29% of students preferred that most or all their courses be online. The key takeaways from the survey were that students chose online courses as it allowed them more flexibility out of school, and those who preferred the campus courses were looking for social connections.

Higher ed online learning leaders are now exploring how they can meet shifting demand and remain aligned with student course needs that are changing.

Online Learning Strategies

Researchers found that higher ed online strategies fall under four main goals: growth, access, cost, and quality. Some of these goals overlap and are interdependent.

Growth: Most institutions want to keep the same number of students on campus and want new online learners to bolster their enrollment. Leaders need to determine which programs to invest in and which to let go to meet changing demand. How can online courses improve campus retention with limited capacity and budget?

Access: This goal is high on the list as institutions worked hard to ensure students had access throughout the pandemic. Ensuring all students have equitable access to courses and campus life no matter their situation is a primary driver. Also, as fewer “traditional” students enroll, how can colleges and universities support working professional students to bolster their enrollment and serve a wider swath of students?

Cost: The cost of college vs. the value is being questioned by many students. Higher ed leaders are faced with balancing expansion to provide greater value while also attempting to address high tuition, expenses, and general debt for students.

Quality: Institutions need to invest in online course pedagogy, comprehensive students support, and measuring student outcomes. Do these outcomes differ across teaching modalities? Does innovative online pedagogy improve the student experience and affect outcomes?

There is clearly a growing student preference for online learning options. The challenge for institutional leaders is to thoughtfully determine how to accommodate these changes and extend their identities online, while providing meaningful educational experiences commensurate with on-campus learning.