Pre-Emptive Strikes: Keeping Distance Learning Programs Strong
Today’s higher education environment is complex. Adult learning is popular, and schools are adjusting to keep up with the modern student. Distance learning programs provide a great solution for adults looking to return to the academic world. However, these programs vary, and there’s no one model that every school follows.
All schools want their distance learning program to succeed. To do that, it’s important to know the needs of your students – your consumers. It’s your job as an institution to provide useful and enriching classes and help the student body achieve what they set out to do: get a degree and use it in the working world. Addressing the following will ensure your program doesn’t fall prey to the challenges that make so many schools fail.
The University Is Responsible
It’s not enough for a student to enroll in school. Earning a degree requires learners to work hard, get good grades, continually take classes, and receive the support they need to prepare for life after graduation. While this might sound obvious, the fact is 40% of students don’t finish their program and 50% take six years to do so. That means a lot of unnecessary debt on top of an already astounding obligation; higher education debt amounts to $50,000-$60,000 in many cases. The numbers get particularly bleak in the for-profit sector, in which only 17% of students finish their degree.
The trouble is that many schools don’t help students complete their program in four years. The result is a lot of scrutiny from the outside world – including from the government, which then steps in and sets regulations. It’s the university’s responsibility to help students not just graduate, but to do so on time.
Strong Student Support Networks
An important thing to consider is that online learning is not “learning lite.” It’s an important life endeavor for students, and programs need to treat it as such. In fact, distance learners usually require a much more complex administrative network. Many have multiple transcripts from universities. They’re often coming from a corporate environment, and they expect a certain level of professionalism. Replying to an email three days after it’s sent isn’t going to cut it for someone who’s used to the rigor of an office environment.
Many students also need academic support. Yes, they took Algebra I as an undergrad, but in many cases, it’s been a long time (say 15-20 years or so) since they took the course. If they’re taking Algebra II now, they may need tutoring to get them refreshed and caught up. Liberty University Online and Houston Baptist University Online have done an incredible job of offering online students the same services available to their counterparts at the physical campus. In fact, distance learners can come to the actual campus and enjoy all the same benefits as location learners. This concept has made all the difference. The future of distance learning rests in the ability of universities to provide on-campus benefits. This should be done physically, yes, but especially online.
Critical to the success of any academic program is financial strength. Where the university chooses to spend its money has a huge impact on whether or not it will succeed. Many for-profit universities focus on shareholder equity and private equity, pushing the profits to themselves rather than to academic resources. The university is now focused on making money rather than providing a good educational experience for the students.
This creates a problem: seemingly successful universities end up with students who don’t finish their degrees. In extreme cases, like with Corinthian University and ITT, the schools fold all together. These institutions overpromise and under-deliver.
Things work differently in non-profit universities. Surplus funds get put back into the mission of the university. The results are better student resources and job placement strategies, representing the mission of the program itself.
Houston Baptist University’s Steve Peterson, Ed. D and Jay Spencer, DMin recently visited our office for a fascinating, in-depth discussion about this very topic. They concluded that although for-profit online programs may have issues, non-profit programs that adopt for-profit practices have proven to be far more successful.
“The nonprofits that run like a business are more successful… as a (university),” said Spencer.
Non-profits benefit from sturdy programs supported by an intelligent model that promotes a strong student experience, yet their online programs are failing and shutting down. This endemic problem leaves thousands of students wondering how they’ll complete their degrees. Peterson strongly suggests that other online programs be prepared to accommodate them.
Impressive academic advising and transfer credit policies will allow these students to accomplish their goal of completing their degrees. That’s what Houston Baptist University has done, and it’s just one example of how successful non-profit universities run as businesses really work.
To hear more about what Spencer and Peterson shared, click on the video link below.