The Provost’s Challenge and reTHINK PSU have increased our online footprint. This spring quarter we plan to launch an online portal – PSU Online will help students find online pathways, course offerings and programs.
The demand for online courses has increased. The 2013 Survey of Online Learning revealed:
- Over 7.1 million students were taking at least one online course during the fall 2012 term; an increase of 411,000 students over the previous year.
- Thirty-three percent of higher education students now take at least one course online.
The 2015 Tracking Online Education Report observed growth rates from IPEDS (Integrated Post-secondary Education Data System) of the number of students taking at least one online course. The report found a 3.7 percent decrease, lower than previous online growth rates, but still higher than the increase in overall higher education enrollment. The increase for students taking online courses at public four-year universities was 126,824 (7.2 percent).
To be online or not to be online—that is the question
There are no shortages of differing views on online course quality, time to develop and teach courses, value, impact on student success, knowledge retention…you name it. A recent review of the empirical literature (2013-2014) notes that there still remain a “dearth of rigorous research done on learning outcomes associated with online and hybrid learning.”
At PSU we do not have a strategy for developing online courses for the sake of online. We aim to be thoughtful about the modality we use for all courses based on what our faculty know to be most relevant to their disciplines and our students. The decision to offer an online course or program resides with the faculty member, department and school/college. The Office of Academic Innovation (OAI) does provide resources and support for faculty teaching online.
A study PSU commissioned for why students pursue online education provides further interesting details.
Each state has regulations for offering post-secondary education, and online is no exception. The U.S. Department of Education released the State Authorization regulation in 2010 requiring institutions offering distance education courses to demonstrate proper approval(s) in each state in which it serves students.
To mitigate the need for every institution to obtain permissions from every state, the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) was created. SARA is a voluntary agreement among its member states and U.S. territories that establishes comparable national standards for interstate offering of post-secondary distance-education courses and programs. I was fortunate to be on the committee that developed our regional SARA, WICHE SARA, and I now serve on the steering committee that approves state participation in our western region.
SARA provides an affordable, consistent, transparent way for accredited, degree-granting institutions to achieve authorization to provide education beyond the state in which they are based.
Oregon is an authorized state and PSU received our institutional authorization this month!
Online courses and programs do need to meet standards. Our accrediting agency, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities and SARA require we abide by the C-RAC standards. The standards ensure quality of online courses and the support students receive.
We held a number of sessions for PSU faculty last year to learn about these standards and SARA prior to PSU’s joining SARA.
I encourage your comments and thoughts about online education at PSU.