Online education enrollment in American community colleges increased by 9 percent from Fall 2009 – Fall 2010, according to a recently released survey.

An ITC study

Released on Tuesday by the Instructional Technology Council, the 2010 survey called  “Trends in eLearning: Tracking the impact of eLearning at Community Colleges” measured the impact of several developments on the distance and online education field.

Specifically, the study recognized the ongoing economic downturn and “relevant regulatory and legislative activity” as two forces behind the 9 percent increase, an amount higher than the 7 percent overall increase in student enrollment at all higher education institutions.

Legislative measures affect online learning

In the past year, legislature has given states authorization to offer distance education to out-of-state students, increased scrutiny of for-profit higher education institutions, released the Broadband Technology Opportunity Program, passed the TAA Community College and Career Training Grants Program and the Department of Education’s National Education Technology Plan.

Additionally, Congress passed the Higher Education Opportunity Act in 2008, requiring institutions that offer distance education to “have processes in place through which the institution establishes that the student who registers in a distance education or correspondence education course or program is the same student who participates in and completes the course or program and receives the academic credit.”

All of these legislative actions have helped to increase the validity and build credibility for online education, which has been doubted in the past by more traditional universities.

Other contributors to the increase

Of those who were surveyed, 39 percent identified typical growth in distance education as the reason for the increase in distance education, while 37 percent identified the downturn in the economy and 12 percent identified the new enrollment initiative as the reason.

More than 95 percent of the survey respondents identified themselves as associate’s colleges or an associate’s dominant college.

Opposing Sloan Consortium report statistics

The report for the study compared results from the Sloan Consortium report, which listed a 21 percent growth in distance learning enrollments. However, the Sloan study reviewed the academic year 2008-09 and included public, private, for-profit and two- and four-year institutions, while the ITC study only surveyed public community colleges in the 2009-10 school year.

The ITC study also included statistics on non-credit offerings. Seventy-three percent of the campuses included in the study reported to be offering non-credit online classes, which is a 9 percent increase from last year’s survey.

Conductors of the survey say this increase may have been influenced by the national economy, as well as the increased use of non-credit courses for specific skill training.

Administrator frustrations

Including community college administrators in the survey, the ITC study revealed many concerns and frustrations regarding distance education.

One unknown survey responded was quoted in the survey report saying, “The inability to have the authority to manage the program remains my primary frustration. Decisions are made affecting offerings without my knowledge and decisions are being made without an adequate understanding of the situation. I think all distance education administrators eventually ‘hit the wall’ since their organizations continue to refuse to adapt to the new reality.”

Understandably, then, the survey has tracked a steady decline in administrator confidence over the accessibility of online classes over the duration of the past three years.

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