Thoughts from Higher Education Leaders: Challenges and Emerging Trends in Online Education

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InsideTrack Leadership Series

NASPA RPI, University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA), and InsideTrack

NASPA, UPCEA, and InsideTrack asked nearly 700 senior administrators how they conceptualize and develop efforts to support the success of students in online programs. Here’s what they said.

Abstract

The University Professional and Continuing Education Association Center for Research and Consulting (UPCEA), NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education Policy, and InsideTrack asked nearly 700 senior administrators how they conceptualize and develop efforts to support the success of students in online programs. The report showcases the partnerships’ continued effort to advance concepts, experiences, and opinions pertinent to developing a wide-scale online learning strategy.

Thoughts from Higher Education Leaders: Challenges and Emerging Trends in Online Education finds that most colleges and universities have online programs, some of which grew organically out of academic units, some saw a programmatic need within their student population, and some wanted to experiment and innovate.

Most senior administrators highlighted online learning is a strategic imperative and have centralize strategic decision making around these programs. The primary drivers of this centralization are: risk, efficiency, and quality.

The findings conclude that the best online learning strategies focus on three things: mission, student-centricity, and leverage. First, start by understanding your goals for offering online programs and how those goals support the overall mission of the institution. Then, refine those goals with a clear understanding of the marketplace and the business model underlying your efforts.

Moreover, respondents encourage readers to take advantage of the unprecedented amounts of data now available regarding student engagement, learning and support in an online environment. Apply these insights to improve the experience for all students.

Finally, engage innovation partners across the institution and leverage the expertise of continuing and online education units. Tap your faculty and your institution’s business-minded stakeholders. Work together to create an environment of innovation, financial health and academic excellence.

Among other important insights, postsecondary leaders recommend tapping into existing expertise across the organization in areas such as online pedagogy, organizational models, lean innovation, and post-traditional student success. They also offer advice for how to avoid potential pitfalls involved in scaling online programs and centralizing related decision making and resources. Finally, many suggest that ensuring a good experience for online students benefits all students.

Of the 236 respondents, 112 were chief student affairs officers and 124 were the senior-most administrator in charge of online, continuing and/or professional education. The organizations then jointly presented the resulting data and hosted discussions at 3 national conferences—the Summit for Online Learning and Strategy hosted by UPCEA and the American Council on Education (ACE), the UPCEA Annual Conference and the NASPA Annual Conference.

In between conference presentations, the group conducted one-on-one qualitative interviews with several survey respondents and other senior leaders responsible for online learning strategy at their respective institutions. The survey, discussions and interviews each involved individuals from a broad range of institutions representing public and private, small baccalaureate through large research institutions, all regions of the U.S. and all levels of student selectivity.

Download full report: Thoughts from Higher Education Leaders: Challenges and Emerging Trends in Online Education

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