Teagle Foundation Releases Report on Their Initiative to Encourage Liberal Arts Colleges to Create Online Courses

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Teagle Foundation Releases Report on Their Initiative to Encourage Liberal Arts Colleges to Create Online Courses

Faculty satisfaction in online courses at liberal arts colleges does not necessarily translate to high student enrollment, a report by Ithaka S&R suggests.

The report, published today, looked at the results of a Teagle Foundation initiative that provided grants to liberal arts colleges to work together to develop online or hybrid online courses and educational resources.

While many faculty members who took part said they were pleased with the results, the online courses typically did not have higher enrollment than equivalent face-to-face courses.

As many liberal arts colleges grapple with dwindling enrollments, offering courses wholly or partially online is becoming an increasingly attractive option for colleges trying to expand their capacity without blowing their budget. But in the report, just 4 percent of faculty members reported that enrollment in their online course was higher than the equivalent face-to-face course. Most respondents (over 75 percent) said that enrollment was flat.

Martin Kurzweil, director of educational transformation at Ithaka S&R and co-author of the report, said liberal arts colleges need to think strategically about which courses to adapt if they wish to increase enrollment.

In the eight projects reviewed in the report, many had small class sizes to start with when offered as face-to-face courses, possibly indicating that the subject had a limited appeal to students, said Kurzweil. He added that in some cases, students may also not have been made sufficiently aware of the courses, citing at least one case where an institution failed to list a course in its catalog. One of the key lessons from the projects highlighted in the report is that successful online courses require full institutional support -- from faculty members, administrative staff and leadership.

Liberal arts colleges offering online or hybrid courses do seem to face a unique set of challenges, said Kurzweil. Many liberal arts colleges pride themselves on being small institutions with a highly personalized approach, and market themselves to potential students as such. Perhaps one reason why the online courses in the study weren’t more popular is because they didn’t align with students’ expectations of their learning experience, suggested Kurzweil.

Loni Bordoloi Pazich, program director at the Teagle Foundation, said that she anticipated students at liberal arts colleges would be receptive to online or hybrid courses, provided they were done well. She said the projects had demonstrated that engaging with technology had not diminished quality, and in many cases had improved colleges’ offerings...

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