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3 Things Academic Leaders Believe About Online Education

The Babson Survey Research Group released its annual online-education survey on Thursday. The Babson surveyors, Jeffrey Seaman and I. Elaine Allen, have been tracking online higher education since 2002, soliciting responses from chief academic officers at thousands of institutions.

You can read this year’s report, based on a survey conducted in 2014, here. But if you don’t have the time, here are three things academic leaders believe about online education:

1. Online education has become mission-critical, even at small colleges.

The percentage of academic leaders who agreed that online education is critical to the long-term strategy of their institutions crept up steadily until 2013, when it fell slightly, from 69 percent to 66 percent. In 2014, however, the percentage was back up to 71 percent, the highest rate yet.

The most-drastic recent shift in the perceived importance of online education was at small colleges (i.e., those with fewer than 1,500 students). In 2012, 60 percent of academic leaders at small colleges said online education was strategically crucial. Now that number is 70 percent—nearly the same as at universities with more than 15,000 students.

2. “Hybrid” courses are at least as good as face-to-face courses.

A majority of survey respondents said hybrid courses—which are held partly online, partly in the classroom—are equivalent to courses that are held entirely in person, but nearly 33 percent said they thought hybrid courses were superior.

This is not a new belief: The percentage of academic leaders who believe in the superiority of hybrid courses has hovered around one-third since at least 2012. (The U.S. Education Department expressed a similar view way back in 2010.) In fact, the slim percentage of respondents who thought hybrids were worse than face-to-face courses actually went up in 2014, from 7.9 percent to 10.6 percent.

3. Most professors still don’t think online courses are legit.

Some things never change. Back in 2002, Babson asked academic leaders if their faculty members “accept the value and legitimacy of online education.” That year 28 percent said their professors thought online courses were legitimate. This year it was … 28 percent.

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