Enrollment Trend Analysis

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Enrollment numbers in distance learning are on the rise, and institutions are trying to keep up. A major trend occurring right now is for institutions of higher education to adapt their learning modules to be delivered online. In this paper, I will discuss the article I researched, as well as perform an analysis of the driving forces for this trend towards online learning.

In the article Scaling Online Education: Increasing Access to Higher Education, the authors discuss the growing trend and explosion of enrollments involved in distance learning within the last several years. Moloney and Oakley (2006) talk about how online learning has entered the mainstream, both in quality and extent. They showed that online enrollments grew from 1.9 million students in 2003, to 2.6 million students in 2004, with those numbers continuing to grow. They found that more than one half of these online enrollments came from community colleges.

The authors also found other evidence of strong growth of online enrollments, in something called the State University of New York Learning Network (SLN). The SLN has grown in the past 12 years from eight online classes to providing a total of 85 online certificate and degree programs (Moloney & Oakley, 2006). The authors go on to list several more examples of schools that have had immense success from implementing an online component into their educational delivery methods. Schools in Illinois, Massachusetts, and Iowa have also seen great increases in their enrollment numbers since they implemented online education. The authors also have a separate category in their studies for schools that have reached a large scale, with enrollments over 10,000 students, such as Capella University and University of Phoenix.

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The authors look for the demand for online education to grow even more. They even categorize several different growth areas, including traditional on-campus students, non-traditional adult students, employees of corporations, and retirees (Moloney & Oakley, 2006). They feel the greatest demand may lay ahead, with what they call “digital natives,” the younger students who grew up on computers and the Internet, and may not feel comfortable attending school any other way. Moloney and Oakley see the online learning sector as continuing to grow, and give suggestions for how institutions of higher education can gear up for this massive growth, such as program development, course development, and faculty recruitment.

Online learning will continue to grow. Even at traditional four-year institutions, online learning is being integrated into the curriculum because it saves money, and can educate more people, thereby bringing in more money. At Arizona State University, online learning is becoming a huge part of the school. Graduate teaching assistants can facilitate the classrooms, reducing the need for a professor. There are no fire codes in online classrooms, so they can fit many students into the classrooms. More people have access, and they can offer more classes every semester.

Clearly, enrollments in online schooling are growing, and will continue to do so. Why do we see this trend? Many people tout online schools because of their convenience. All one needs is a computer and Internet access, and they can earn a degree from a highly accredited institution. This means that the stay-at-home mother, the busy executive, the beginning college student, and someone with a disability all have the same opportunity. No matter what is going on at home, no matter what kind of town they live in, the student now has an opportunity for education, at their convenience.

Another faction of the population is beginning their journey into higher education. Brian Mueller, CEO of Apollo Group, Inc, parent company to University of Phoenix, calls these students “Echo Boomers.” They are 18-26 years old, children of Baby Boomers who were the ones who first gave distance learning a shot. These students are the “digital natives” the authors spoke of in their article. They grew up on computers and prefer the digital environment to sitting in a classroom. They are needing to work full-time and cannot find the time to attend a ground campus.

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