Online Learning at Private Colleges and Universities 2013

Online Learning report cover

​It is estimated that 3 million college students (14 percent) are enrolled in fully online programs (Eduventures, 2012) while 30 percent take at least one online class (Allen and Seaman, 2013). While overall enrollments have been stagnant the past two years, online enrollments are still growing rapidly. In a relatively short period of time (15 to 20 years), the U.S. higher education system has created an alternative path to a college degree, and students are increasingly taking advantage of it. This includes growing numbers of 18 to 24 year-olds (traditional-aged college students) who bypass the campus altogether or, in many cases, live on campus but attend some classes online. The capacity of this new higher education system is virtually unlimited and can accommodate increasing numbers of students without worry over the number of classroom seats or dormitory rooms.

Technology has enabled students and faculty members to learn and teach online. Faculty members have learned how to use the technology and how to adapt their courses to online delivery; librarians, bookstore managers, tutors and advisors have learned how to provide services to remote students who never come to campus; and chairs, deans, and provosts have learned how to develop and market online programs and how to lead faculty members who live elsewhere.

Private colleges and universities have each responded differently to this technology. Some have rejected it as contrary to their mission to provide personalized, intimate learning environments, while others have embraced the technology with an entrepreneurial spirit. Nearly 20 years ago, many of the pioneers in online learning were private colleges and universities. Regis University, Saint Leo University, Park University, and others experimented with serving students at a distance, and online programs were a natural evolution. Today, about 20 percent of students enrolled in fully online programs attend a private college or university, while approximately 35 percent attend a for-profit institution and another 45 percent attend a public university (Aslanian and Clinefelter, 2013).

This report summarizes the findings of a survey of chief academic officers of small and mid-sized private colleges and universities, all members of the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC). It includes information about how these institutions have organized services to accommodate online students, the barriers they had to overcome, the impact on the institutions, finances, and plans for the near future. CIC is eager to learn about the use of online instruction among its member institutions and is grateful to the Learning House for conducting the survey and preparing this report. The findings are intended to be instructive to CIC member institutions as they seek to determine whether or how best to adopt online instruction in ways that are consistent with their missions and educational philosophies.

​Council of Independent Colleges
By David L. Clinefelter and Andrew J. Magda
November 2013