It is gratifying to see WCET pick up the mantle with their analysis of distance learning based on the new IPEDS data. They have several posts up already, and today's post is quite good and important. If only more people jumping into the fray on higher education history and reform would start with a grounding in facts, the public debate and resulting recommendations would be much more useful.
It is surprising how many times people conflate distance (or online) education with for-profit institutions. Often these are people who should know better, whether in Congress, the press, research universities, or other higher education pundits. Certainly, the for-profits have had a huge impact on the distance education world, but maintaining unfounded perceptions does not inform policy or practice. Some examples:
Scene 1: A fiscal analyst calls Russ Poulin saying that he is glad to see an article in the higher education press about public and non-profit institutions finally starting to get into distance education. Russ asked him if he knew that the majority of enrollments in distance education were in public and non-profit institutions. The analyst would not believe it at all. Heavy sigh.
Scene 2: At the opening press conference for one of the big-name MOOC providers, a member of the press asked if the MOOC leaders had sought advice from others already involved in distance education. One of the MOOC leaders responded that they saw no reason to consult with for-profit institutions. Did we mention this was someone from a research university? First, the leader thought that distance education equated with for-profit institutions. Second, even if only for-profits were involved, wouldn’t you want to learn from those with experience? Double sigh.
The post analyzes much of the same data that I covered here, but Russ and Terri have pulled out some important and little-understood findings, including the following:
- For Fully Distance Students, Just Over One-Third Enroll in For-profit Institutions
- Fully Distance Students are Nearly Half of For-Profit Enrollments; Around 10% for Other Sectors
- Two-thirds of Students Enrolled in At Least One Distance Course Are at a Public Institution
There's much more data and analysis at WCET's blog - I recommend reading the entire post.