Staying the Course: Online Education in the United States, 2008

Staying the Course: Online Education in the United States, 2008

Staying the Course: Online Education in the United States, 2008 represents the sixth annual report on the state of online learning in U.S. higher education. This year’s study, like those for the previous five years, is aimed at answering some of the fundamental questions about the nature and extent of online education. A collaborative effort between the Babson Survey Research Group, the College Board and the Sloan Consortium and supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation the study is based on responses from more than 2,500 colleges and universities, addressing the following key questions:

How Many Students are Learning Online?

Background: For the past several years, online enrollments have been growing substantially faster than overall higher education enrollments. The expectation of academic leaders has been that these enrollments would continue their substantial growth for at least another year. Do the measured enrollments match these lofty expectations?

The evidence: Online enrollments have continued to grow at rates far in excess of the total higher education student population, with the most recent data demonstrating no signs of slowing.

* Over 3.9 million students were taking at least one online course during the fall 2007 term; a 12 percent increase over the number reported the previous year.

* The 12.9 percent growth rate for online enrollments far exceeds the 1.2 percent growth of the overall higher education student population.

* Over twenty percent of all U.S. higher education students were taking at least one online course in the fall of 2007.

What is Impact of the Economy on Online Enrollments?

Background: Bad economic times have often been good for education, either because decreased availability of good jobs encourages more people to seek education instead, or because those currently employed seek to improve their chances for advancement by advancing their education.

The evidence: Institutions believe that the economic changes will have a positive impact on overall enrollments and that specific aspects of an economic downturn resonate closely with increasing demand for online courses with specific types of schools.

* There is widespread agreement that higher fuel costs will lead to more students selecting online courses.

* Institutions that offer programs to serve working adults are the most positive about the potential for overall enrollment growth being driven by rising unemployment.

Do Academic Leaders and Faculty Agree?

Background: Chief academic officers have important decision making powers for institutions of higher education, and they often make their decisions based on their understanding of faculty opinions. Do these academic leaders have a good understanding of faculty views?

The evidence: A series of questions about motivations for teaching online was asked of a sample of faculty who teach online and of chief academic officers. There was a wide level of agreemnt, with one important difference.

* Both chief academic officers and online teaching faculty said that the flexibility in meeting the needs of students was the most important motivation for teaching online.

* Being required to teach online had the lowest rated motivation in each group.

* The largest difference in view is in the ranking of additional income as a motivation; chief academic officers ranked this second of seven items, faculty ranked it fifth.

* Faculty ranking stressed student centered issues more so than the ranking of chief academic officers.

Is Online Learning Strategic?

Background: For online education to continue its rapid growth, it must be perceived as important by the chief academic officers who are planning tomorrow’s educational offerings. Only if these academic leaders believe that online is critical will they build future programs around it.

The evidence: Results for the previous five years have shown an increase followed by a leveling in the proportion of those institutions stating that online education is critical to their long term strategy.

* The proportion of institutions declaring that online education is critical to their long-term strategy shows a small decline for fall 2007.

* The proportion of institutions that see online education as a critical part of their long-term strategy appears to have reached a plateau over the past several years.

* Public institutions continue to be the most likely to believe that online education is critical to their long-term strategy.

* Approximately one-third of baccalaureate institutions consider online to be critical, a rate about half that of other institutional types.

What Disciplines are Best Represented Online?

Background: Online enrollments have shown substantial growth for each of the past five years. Has this extraordinary growth been uniform across all areas of higher education or concentrated among specific institutions or specific types of programs?

The evidence: Online enrollments have seen steady growth, as has the number of institutions with online program offerings. What is not known, however, is if particular disciplines are better suited to online and others less well suited.

* There is roughly equal penetration for seven of the eight major discipline areas being examined.

* Engineering is the only discipline area where online representation is much lower than for other areas.

* Public institutions have the highest penetration rates for all disciplines other than engineering.

* Associate’s institutions have a wide lead in online penetration for psychology, social sciences, and liberal arts.

Staying the Course: Online Education in the United States, 2008

Results from the 2008 Campus Computing Survey

The 2008 Campus Computing Survey
by Kenneth (Casey) Green
Oct. 29, 2008

The 2008 National Survey of Information Technology in U.S. Higher Education Colleges Invest in Emergency Notification

Colleges and universities across the United States have made significant efforts to expand and enhance emergency notification capacity over the past year. Data from the 2008 Campus Computing Survey reveal that the proportion of institutions reporting that they do not have an “operational emergency notification system” as of fall 2008 fell to 5.5 percent, down from 25.0 percent in fall 2007.

While the numbers show major gains in notification planning and capacity, the survey data document some important variations across sectors. For example, 13.1 percent of community colleges report that they do not have an operational notification system, compared to 5.1 percent for private four-year colleges, 2.8 percent for public four-year colleges, and 2.3 percent private universities. In contrast, all the public universities participating in this year’s survey report operational notification systems as of fall 2008.

Additionally, the operational elements of campus notification plans showed major gains between fall 2007 and 2008. For example, the proportion of campuses reporting sirens as part of their plans jumped from 23.4 percent last year to 34.8 percent in fall 2008. Similarly, the proportion of campuses reporting notification capacity utilizing email grew by almost a third, from 66.4 percent in 2007 to 86.6 percent in 2008, while voice mail to campus phones increased almost by half to 65.5 percent, up from 44.6 in 2007; text messaging rose by three-fourths, from 43.3 percent in 2007 to 75.6 percent in fall 2008. The percentage of campuses reporting voice mail notification to off-campus phones and cell phones more than doubled from 2007 to 2008, from 18.0 to 41.1 percent for “wired” phones and from 22.5 to 48.5 percent for mobile phones.

“These dramatic gains reflect significant institutional concern about notification capacity,” says Kenneth C. Green, founding director of The Campus Computing Project. “Given recent campus tragedies and natural disasters, campus officials have come to recognize that technology is an essential component of a comprehensive institutional crisis management strategy.”

Yet Green cautions that “technology is the easy part” of campus notification efforts,” noting that careful planning, campus promotion, and system testing, plus thoughtful assessment, are essential. He cites the “opt-in” issue as one example: “if only a third of students register for the system, the benefits and effectiveness are clearly limited.”  (Data from the 2008 survey indicate that three-fourths – 76.6 percent – of campuses have an “opt-in” policy.)

The campus investment in notification resources comes as colleges and universities report the beginning of what appears to be a new wave of IT budget cuts. The 2008 survey data confirm that the downturn affecting financial markets and state budgets has begun to hit college and university budgets. More than two-fifths of public universities (45.4 percent) report cuts in the central IT budget for fall 2008, up from just 16.3 percent in 2007. Similarly, 44.4 percent of public four-year colleges report central IT budget cuts this fall, compared to 16.7 percent last year. Other sectors also report reduced IT funding from last year to this, but the numbers are smaller: 22.8 percent for private universities, 23.5 percent for private four-year colleges, and 24.6 for community colleges.

“These new IT budget reductions come just as many institutions are beginning to recover from the budget cuts that marked the economic downturn during the first years of the current decade,” says Green. “The demand for technology resources and services continues to rise, even as the dollars supporting these resources, services, and IT staff are cut from institutional budgets.”

The 2008 data document continuing challenges involving IT security.  The survey reveals increases in the proportion of institutions reporting the theft of campus computers with sensitive data (22.2 percent in fall 2008, compared to 17.1 percent last year), network attacks (up slightly from 45.6 percent to 46.2 percent), and identity management issues (25.6 percent, compared to 20.2 percent in 2007). The proportion of campuses reporting employee misconduct affecting IT security rose to 8.9 percent in 2008 compared to 6.5 percent in 2007.

Although security issues pose continuing challenges for campus IT officials, the proportion who identify IT security as the “single most important IT issue confronting my institution over the next two-three years” declined in 2008 to 20.5 percent, down from 25.5 percent in 2007 and 30 percent in both 2005 and 2006. Ranked second in 2008 is “hiring/retaining IT staff” at 16.7 percent, up from 12.3 percent last year. Tied for third in 2008 are “assisting faculty with the instructional integration of IT” (11.9 percent, compared to 11.2 percent in 2007 and 40.5 percent in 2000), and “financing the replacement of aging hardware and software” (11.2 percent, compared to 10.3 percent in 2007).  Upgrading/replacing administrative IT/ERP systems, which was second in 2007 (13.0 percent) is ranked fifth in 2008 (10.0 percent).

“These data reflect the clustering of major IT priorities over the past few years,” says Green. “Rather than the one clear IT priority we saw in 2000 -instructional integration at 40 percent – the 2008 data reflect competing, yet critical priorities: IT security, retaining IT staff, and financing IT – all competing for limited budget resources.”

A new item on the 2008 survey asked respondents about the likelihood that their institutions will migrate to Software as a Service (SaaS) or Open Source administrative applications within five years, by 2013. About a fourth (24.4 percent) of the survey respondents report a high likelihood that their institution would migrate to an Open Source Learning Management System (LMS) by 2013. About one on six (15.3 percent) report likely migration to an Open Source content system and about an eighth (12.9 percent) anticipate migration to an Open Source ePortfolio application. Far fewer respondents – less than five percent – predict migration to Open Source ERP applications such as student information, financial, HR, or research/ grant management systems by 2013.

Similarly, about a fifth (18.0 percent) of the 2008 survey respondents predict that their campuses might migrate to a SaaS-based LMS, and an eighth anticipate moving to a SaaS-based content management (12.2 percent) or ePortfolio (11.1 percent) in the next five years.

Yet even as respondents seem wary of migrating to Open Source, the survey data document the rising deployment of Open Source LMS applications. For example, Blackboard remains the dominant LMS provider in higher education: 56.8 percent of the campuses in the 2008 survey identified Blackboard as the single product campus LMS standard, down from 66.3 percent in 2007. But one campus in seven (13.8 percent) that participated in the 2008 survey identified an Open Source LMS – either Moodle or Sakai – as the campus standard LMS, up from 10.3 percent in 2007 and 7.2 percent in 2006. As of fall 2008, almost a fourth (23.7 percent) of private four-year colleges identified Moodle as the campus standard LMS, compared to 17.2 percent in 2007.

Across all sectors the percentage of college classrooms that have access to wireless networks continues to rise.  Overall, about two-thirds (67.6 percent) of classrooms have access to wireless, up from 60.1 percent in 2007 and 31.0 percent in 2004). Classroom wireless access is highest in private universities (76.0 percent, up from 68.9 percent in 2007) and lowest in community colleges (56.1 percent, up from 44.1 percent in 2007.  The survey data reveal that many colleges and universities are carefully assessing options to outsource student email and other IT services.

Fully two-fifths (42.4 percent) of institutions participating in this year’s survey report that they have migrated or are about to migrate to an outsourced student email service; three in ten (28.3 percent) are reviewing institutional options for outsourcing student email during the current academic year. In contrast, just 14.8 percent of institutions have migrated to outsourced email services for faculty. The majority of campuses outsourcing student email have opted for Google (56.5 percent), while two-fifths (38.4 percent) are using Microsoft and 4.8 percent are using Zimbra.

A new item on the 2008 survey reveals the wide deployment of antiplagiarism software. More than half (54.7 percent) of institutions report a site license for an antiplagiarism product.  Licensing agreements are highest in public four-year colleges (66.7 percent), followed by private universities (64.3 percent), public universities (62.2 percent), private four-year colleges (43.2 percent), and community colleges (54.1 percent).

“The wide deployment of antiplagiarism software reflects the growing concern about both intentional and ‘accidental’ plagiarism among undergraduates,” says Green. “Some students simply don’t know or don’t attend to the established rules for citing sources in their papers, while others intentionally clip and copy material from the Internet and other sources. Unfortunately, campus licenses for anti-plagiarism products are an additional institutional expense in times of stressed campus budgets.”

The survey data document the rising use of classroom clickers across all sectors. Although the overall numbers are generally low – about seven percent in public and private universities and public four-year colleges, five percent in private four-year colleges, and four percent in community colleges – the proportion of classes using clickers has almost doubled since the 2005 survey. Moreover, because clickers are almost exclusively found in (often large) lower-division undergraduate classes, the gains reflected in the survey data may actually understate the significance of the rising deployment of clickers and classroom response systems as a technology resource to support instruction.


The 2008 Campus Computing Survey is based on data provided by senior campus IT officials, typically the CIO, CTO, or other ranking campus IT officer, representing 531 two-and four-year public and private colleges and universities across the United States. Survey respondents completed the online questionnaire during September and October, 2008.

Copies of the 2008 Campus Computing Survey will be available on December 10th, as either print documents ($37.00 plus $2.00 shipping and handling) or as PDF site license files.  Order from Campus Computing  –

Results from the 2008 Campus Computing Survey

Joint Searches, MN, Europeana, Student Engagement, Faculty, Metadata, Teens Online, Movies, Google Book Scan, Blackboard, Facebook

The Online Search Party: A Way to Share the Load
by Anne Eisenberg
Nov. 22, 2008, New York Times

“Opportunities for social networking abound on the Internet, but not when it comes to one standard job: using a browser and search engine to comb the Web for information. That task is still typically done solo, because browser displays and search procedures have traditionally been designed for a single user. Now tools are being developed by Microsoft and other companies that let people at different computers search as a team, dividing responsibilities and pooling results and recommendations in a shared Web space on the browser display as they plan a family vacation, for instance, or research a medical problem.”

“Meredith Ringel Morris, a computer scientist at Microsoft Research in Redmond, Wash., has created one of these collaborative tools, SearchTogether, now available in a test version as a free download at The program is designed to work within the Internet Explorer 7 browser.” …

Online Push in Minnesota
by Scott Jaschik
Nov. 21, 2008, Inside Higher Ed

“Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and leaders of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities on Thursday announced a goal of shifting 25 percent of credits to online courses by 2015. In the last academic year, just over 9 percent of credits were delivered online. But about 66,000 credit students – or 26 percent of all credit students – took at least one online course. The plan includes a mix of incentives for students (such as a scholarship bonus) and improvements in student services for online courses.” See

Europeana Goes Online and Is Then Overwhelmed
by Stephen Castle
Nov. 21, 2008, New York Times

“A new digital library of Europe’s cultural heritage crashed just hours after it went online and will be out of operation for several weeks, the European Commission said Friday, attributing the embarrassing failure to overwhelming public interest. Europeana, a Web site of two million documents, images, video and audio clips, opened on Thursday with international publicity and acclaim from researchers. But by Friday, those trying to log on were greeted with a message telling them that the service may not be running again until mid-December, while computer capacity is upgraded. The designers of Europeana had expected a maximum of five million hits an hour. But there was as much as three times the predicted traffic, a unusual phenomenon for any Web site associated with the European Union.”

Promoting Engagement for All Students: The Imperative to Look Within
Nov. 12, 2008, National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE)

“Though this result seems counterintuitive, the online setting may offer more opportunities for collaboration and faculty who teach online courses my be more intentional about fostering active learning experiences, such as asking questions or participating in discussions. For both first-year students and seniors, the percent of courses delivered primarily online was significantly related to level of academic challenge. Online courses seem to stimulate more intellectual challenge and educational gains. This suggests that integrating technology-enhanced courses into the curriculum for all students may have some salutary benefits. On the other hand, it is also possible that faculty who are incorporating new technologies are inherently more inclined to provide engaging experiences for their students, regardless of how the content is delivered.” – see pages 16-17

The second key finding in the press release for this 2008 report based on a survey of nearly 380,000 randomly selected first-year and senior students at 722 four year colleges and universities in the U.S. states, “Students taking most of their classes online report more deep approaches to learning in their classes, relative to classroom-based learners. Furthermore, a larger share of online learners reported very often participating in intellectually challenging course activities.”


With Students Flocking Online, Will Faculty Follow?
by Andy Guess
Nov. 18, 2008, Inside Higher Ed

“As online courses’ popularity continues to rise, many administrators are struggling with a steep learning curve, one whose ultimate end point is far from being determined. Questions such as how such courses should be taught (by adjuncts or full-time faculty?) often depend on institutions’ missions (expand access or generate extra revenue?) and can lead to clashes and tensions between proponents of online learning and those who remain wedded to the traditional classroom.”

“But it’s often the existing campus faculty that administrators rely on to develop and teach online courses, a reality that informs their approaches to determining who should teach the courses and how they should be compensated. In many cases, the models are relics of outdated distance programs that gradually became the basis for courses offered over the Internet. No two models are exactly alike, but as colleges experiment with ways to keep their faculty happy and their courses high in quality, evidence of some common practices is emerging.” . . .

“Until the past few years, when growth in online enrollments started skyrocketing, Loh said, the costs were relatively low and the compensation structure for courses taught via the Internet remained the same as for those once taught via snail mail. Those days are now past, due in part to the well-documented rise in the enrollment of non-traditional students, those older than the typical on-campus undergraduate, often working part time or looking for mid-career training.” . . .

Maelstrom Over Metadata
by Andy Guess
Nov. 14, 2008, Inside Higher Ed

“A debate is carrying on in the undercurrents of the academic Web, pitting those who defend libraries’ core mission of open access against the membership organization that collects and operates a massive online catalog on which many of them rely. Early this month, the OCLC (for Online Computer Library Center) announced the first significant change in its policies governing how libraries use and share bibliographic records since 1987 – years before the World Wide Web existed. Some of those rules were considered overly vague or out of touch, representing an era before Google searches and online catalogs transformed the way students and researchers use library databases. A major part of libraries’ evolution since then has been a demand for more openness and the ability to search for materials that might exist at any number of institutions worldwide, driven by the ubiquity of search engines and an increasing commitment to digitizing texts. But those trends place them on a collision course with OCLC, which was originally founded by libraries to collect and store records of their holdings so that they wouldn’t have to be created anew with each acquisition.” . . .

New Study Finds Time Spent Online Important for Teen Development
November 2008, MacArthur Foundation

“The most extensive U.S. study on teens and their use of digital media finds that America’s youth are developing important social and technical skills online – often in ways adults do not understand or value.”

” ‘Online spaces provide unprecedented opportunities for kids to expand their social worlds and engage in public life, whether that is connecting with peers over MySpace or Facebook, or publishing videos on YouTube,’ said Ito. ‘Kids learn on the Internet in a self-directed way, by looking around for information they are interested in, or connecting with others who can help them. This is a big departure from how they are asked to learn in most schools, where the teacher is the expert and there is a fixed set of content to master.

“The research demonstrates that, although many young people are developing a broad range of sophisticated new literacy and technical skills, they are also facing new challenges in how to manage their visibility and social relationships online. Online media, messages, and profiles that young people post can travel beyond expected audiences and are often difficult to eradicate after the fact. The research suggests that this rapid pace of change presents challenges for both adults and kids as they struggle to keep up with technology and related social changes.”

MGM to Post Full Films on YouTube
by Brad Stone and Brooks Barnes
Nov. 9, 2008, New York Times

“YouTube is by far the world’s biggest stage for online video. But in some ways Hulu is stealing the show. With critical plaudits and advertising dollars flowing to Hulu, the popular online hub for television shows and feature films, YouTube finds itself in the unanticipated position of playing catch-up.”

“On Monday, YouTube will move forward a little, announcing an agreement to show some full-length television shows and films from MGM, the financially troubled 84-year-old film studio. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios will kick off the partnership by posting episodes of its decade-old “American Gladiators” program to YouTube, along with full-length action films like “Bulletproof Monk” and “The Magnificent Seven” and clips from popular movies like “Legally Blonde.” These will be free to watch, with ads running alongside the video.”

Google Settles Suit Over Book-Scanning
by Miguel Helft and Motoko Rich
Oct. 28, 2008, New York Times

“Settling a legal battle, Google reached an agreement with book publishers and authors that clears the way for both sides to more easily profit from digital versions of printed books. The agreement, under which Google would pay $125 million to settle two copyright lawsuits over its book-scanning efforts, would allow it to make millions of out-of-print books available for reading and purchasing online.”

“It outlines the framework for a new system that will channel payments from book sales, advertising revenue and other fees to authors and publishers, with Google collecting a cut. The deal goes some way toward drawing a road map for a possible digital future for publishers and authors, who worried that they were losing control over how their works were used online, as the music industry has.”

“The settlement, which was announced Tuesday and was subject to court approval, would have the greatest impact on the millions of books that were still protected by copyright but were no longer being printed. Since 2004, Google has been working with university and research libraries to create digital scans of their collections. Of the approximately seven million books that Google has already scanned, four million to five million are out of print.”

“Google now makes the content of those books available in its book search service but shows only snippets of text, unless it has permission from the copyright holder to show more. Under the agreement, Google will now show up to 20 percent of the text at no charge to users. It will also make the entire book available online for a fee. Universities, libraries and other organizations will be able to buy subscriptions that make entire collections of those books available to their visitors.” . . .

Next Step for Blackboard and Open Source
by Andy Guess
Oct. 28, 2008, Inside Higher Ed

“While open source advocates tend to view Blackboard’s for-profit, license-based model with disdain, the company has responded with a public commitment to embrace free sharing of code when possible. Its first effort to that end, earlier this year, was a partnership with Syracuse University to develop a free software plug-in that would bridge the divide between the Blackboard interface and data from Sakai, one of the main open-source course management packages.”

“Today, at the annual conference of Educause, the higher education information technology group, Blackboard is announcing a similar project to integrate with Moodle, the other primary open source alternative. Although it was previously known that Moodle would be next, the announcement revealed that Iowa State University would develop the plug-in with support from Blackboard.” . . .

Taking Facebook Back to Campus
by Andy Guess
Oct. 24, 2008, Inside Higher Ed

“As colleges try to adapt their more traditional outreach methods to the successive waves of students who live much of their lives online, it’s inevitable that some will start to ask whether they can marshal the ubiquity of social networking to attract applicants, connect to enrolled students and, once they graduate, keep track of them as alumni. Companies are already offering up tools that connect key components of the student experience to their favored online playground, Facebook. While the social network originally focused on college students, complete with course listings, those functions have since been shed and third-party developers have picked up the slack.”

“But they’ve gone much further, in a way they hope could turn Facebook into a hub for the various tasks students perform on campus: Blackboard has an application for its course management software, for instance, and Inigral has a multipurpose app that will link directly to colleges’ student information databases, providing an added layer of features and privacy to the traditional Facebook experience for those institutions that buy it. Some colleges are even marketing to prospective students through the site. Meanwhile, colleges are also exploring the possibilities of social networking for rounding up donations from alumni, retaining students who are enrolled and other central tasks. Keeping in touch with alumni is always a daunting project, especially so for recent graduates who may be more mobile and less rooted to a permanent address or phone number.” . . .

Joint Searches, MN, Europeana, Student Engagement, Faculty, Metadata, Teens Online, Movies, Google Book Scan, Blackboard, Facebook