The Future of University Education: On Campus vs. Online 

The Pulse Points Higher Education presentation below is based on a national survey conducted by PulsePoint Group from May 23-27, that asked 1,500 high school graduates, college graduates, and post-graduate degree holders their opinions of and experiences with online learning. Results indicate that online efforts will grow, especially in some sectors, but won’t replace the on-campus experience.

Online Learning, MOOC

Key Findings

Key findings of the report include:

  • The main perceived benefit for online education over on-campus education is not price – it is practicality. Of 24 categories of benefits, the only one in which online education was perceived as superior was “fits this time in my life.”
  • Although this perception is likely evolving, online education is perceived as more relevant to improving specific skills or taking specific courses than to obtaining a degree.
  • Both of these findings suggest that the institutional impact of online education may be greater on community colleges and institutions with major adult education activities than on the undergraduate programs of selective four-year institutions, at least in the near term. They also suggest that certain kinds of courses – those less dependent on personal interaction – may prove better suited to the online experience than others, and that courses that combine both online and in-person elements may be the most successful.
  • As a group, respondents were only moderately interested in taking online courses in the next three years and tended not to predict they would become more popular. But roughly a tenth expressed a much greater interest, and these tended to be the respondents who had Master’s and Doctorate degrees. This suggests institutions expanding their online programs should target this segment over the next several years.
  • Young people are expected to become major influencers of their parents and other adults. Nearly 90 percent of the respondents’ children who are 14+ years old have taken an online course.
  • The market is extremely price sensitive. Interest is high in free courses, but price resistance rises quickly and steeply; over 60 percent wouldn’t pay $500 for an online course and nearly 80 percent say they wouldn’t pay $1,000. This may reflect online’s continuing status as the “second best” choice of most people, and heightened price sensitivity on the part of the people for whom its appeal is greatest.
  • Reputation and “brand” remain critical in respondents’ interest and willingness to pay. In a sector where reputation is often a function of selectivity, the expansion of “massive open online courses” (“MOOCs”) presents institutions with a paradox: Strong brands will give the best institutions an edge online, but exploiting that edge in a mass market risks diluting the brand. Successful schools will need to strategically target their audiences and constantly reinforce the brand.
  • There is strong support for the idea that public universities should offer online courses as a matter of public policy. Half the respondents said this is important to improve the public’s overall education level, and 64% said it would help expand access to higher education.