Nearly half of people who plan to participate in a postsecondary education program said they would rather attend one that is online or a mixture of online and on-campus instruction, according to a survey by Eduventures, a research and consulting firm for the education industry.
Only about 7 percent of U.S. postsecondary students are pursuing an entirely online degree or certificate program, however, according to Eduventures’ research.
“This level of interest is far higher than current consumer experience,” said Richard Garrett, senior analyst of Eduventures’ Learning Collaborative for Online Higher Education. “Consumer enthusiasm for online higher education suggests that this market will continue to grow strongly.”
Additionally, the survey shed light on respondents’ attitudes toward online education. A minority felt that online education is of poor quality, but 42 percent of respondents said they are willing to judge individual online education programs or courses on their merits and not jump to the conclusion that they are not high-quality simply because of their Web-based nature. Almost 50 percent, however, said they would expect to pay less for an online course or program compared with an on-campus learning experience.
Further, 63 percent of the respondents who said they would consider an entirely Web-based postsecondary education program also said they would prefer that the online provider have a branch or main campus — some sort of physical presence — in their state.
Thirty-seven percent of the respondents who said they would consider an entirely Web-based postsecondary education program said they would disregard location as a factor.
Survey respondents expressed a good deal of openness to potentially enrolling in online postsecondary education programs and courses, but indicated they have less positive or narrower ideas in regard to the nature and value of the online education experience. Many respondents said they view online education as a convenient method to obtain a degree or supplement earlier postsecondary education, and the survey revealed a view that entirely Web-based postsecondary education means students sacrifice quality for convenience.
“Online universities and colleges face a tricky balancing act between playing to majority consumer value perceptions centered on convenience versus emphasizing broader conceptions of online higher education (e.g. around pedagogy, technology),” Garrett said.
He also suggested that colleges and universities play an integral role in the way entirely Web-based postsecondary education programs are perceived.
“Breadth is essential to overcoming consumer hesitation and allowing individual schools to stand out in an increasingly crowded market,” Garrett said. “Schools need to both accommodate and educate consumers.”