Jul 20 2020

Why Are Some Colleges Seeing Record Enrollment in Online Courses?

From large state flagships to small private colleges, online learning is creating opportunities for enrollment surges nationwide.

Despite the COVID-19 recession, some large state flagship universities and small private colleges are reporting record enrollment in summer online courses.

These schools are attributing their success to factors including the flexibility of online courses, new lucrative majors and data-driven recruitment and retention strategies.

Georgia Gwinnett College, for example, is experiencing a 14 percent increase in summer enrollment. This is the highest summer enrollment jump in the college’s 15-year history.

GGC notes that this jump in enrollment is in part due to the use of predictive analytics, as well as proactive advising to help struggling students stay on track toward graduation.

According to GGC Vice President Michael Poll, the college’s fall enrollment numbers are looking strong too. “While it’s always a challenge to predict, particularly with all that’s going on in the world, we do feel good about the numbers,” Poll said in an article on the college’s website.

Increase Enrollment By Offering More Lucrative Courses

Meanwhile, Arizona State University’s summer enrollment numbers have surged by 16.5 percent compared with 2019, with a record 56,000 students taking online classes.

ASU has added more relevant and possibly lucrative course options—including pandemic-related classes such as Pandemics and Public Management, Navigating Complicated Grief during COVID-19, and The Moviegoer’s Guide to the Future: Infectious Diseases.

“Our faculty have shown remarkable adaptability and an unyielding commitment to student success by making classes available through remote options and offering multiple start dates this summer,” ASU Executive Vice President and University Provost Mark Searle said in a statement.

Across the country, Indiana University Bloomington is also reporting a record high summer enrollment of 12,604 students, a 22 percent boost from last summer.

More than 33,000 students have enrolled in online courses offered by the university’s campuses across the state.

“Each year we have seen continued interest in the robust offering of degree programs and high-quality courses offered through our IU Online program, and we are grateful that we are able to extend such an excellent IU education to our students in a remote learning environment,” John Applegate, executive vice president for the university’s academic affairs, said in a statement.

MORE ON EDTECH: Learn how to prepare for campus readiness while cutting costs.

Make Sure Classes Offer Flexible Schedules

At the University of Cincinnati, a record 19,708 students are enrolled in summer courses. According to the university, it is seeing more students enrolling for full-time study than ever before.

UC attributes its success to flexible course schedules and the fact that UC faculty members have 20 years of experience in virtual teaching.

“More importantly though, the students opting for summer enrollment are those who participated in our transition to remote learning this past spring. In the end, it’s an endorsement of the quality of the online instruction and a testament to the fact that UC and our faculty have been national leaders in delivering first-class online courses for 20 years now,” Jack Miner, vice provost for enrollment management, says in a post on the university’s website. “UC is home to several top-ranked distance learning programs nationally. And now, more students are discovering that expertise and taking advantage of it.”

At the same time, small private universities are also seeing record summer enrollments. At William Carey University in Mississippi, the largest enrollment gains have come from the college’s school of education and its school of nursing.

MORE ON EDTECH: Learn how data analytics will help campuses reopen safely.

The number of education students at WCU rose by 35 percent, from 876 students in summer 2019 to 1,180 students in summer 2020. Nursing enrollment increased 18 percent, from 495 students to 586 students over the same time period.

Ben Burnett, WCU’s acting executive vice president, attributes the growth to the fact that most of the university’s education classes were already available online before the pandemic.

“Most of our education classes were already available online, so the School of Education was well-positioned to continue its efforts to help solve Mississippi’s K-12 teacher shortage,” Burnett said in a statement. “The licensure guideline changes issued by the Mississippi Department of Education amid the pandemic helped clear the path for many who wanted to pursue a career in education.”

“I am thrilled to see this enrollment increase for the summer — and also the one we expect in the fall as we work to move William Carey University forward,” Burnett said.

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