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students earned through the educational institutions that
offered the courses. The courses were not only for workers
in manufacturing and information technology; hundreds
of schoolteachers throughout the state took professional
development courses online via MVU. A feature available to
educators was a program to help them learn to develop their
own online courses. MVU’s online career guidance was used
by employers and by individuals seeking jobs and internships,
as well as by high school students trying to plan careers and
choose colleges and universities.
Michigan Virtual High School, like
the online university, brokered courses
for students whose brick-and-mortar
high schools did not have such courses
or whose regular schedules could
not accommodate certain classroom
Elsewhere, the emphasis on
economic development by Kentucky
Virtual University (KVU) provides
another example of using online courses
for nonprofessional education. In 2002,
KVU directed the largest portion of
its students to the institutions of the
Kentucky Community and Technical
system. The virtual university itself offers no courses, instead
facilitating enrollments and providing various support
services to students who found their way into online
programs through its auspices.
Both for-profit providers and traditional institutions
of higher education have recognized that one of the best
chances for early acceptance of online courses resides in
enticing people who most need the courses for instrumental
purposes. Some of the shrewdest, profit-oriented education
entrepreneurs have, in the best tradition of commerce,
coalesced around these career-oriented, professional-based
courses tied most tightly to the needs of employers.
Not surprisingly, courses in the humanities and the
social sciences are not featured in most online programs.
Philosophy, literature and art history, for example, have a
much smaller online following than management, finance and
marketing. Working students, whether they attend classes in
person or online, usually want courses that will advance them
in the workplace, not in the marketplace of ideas.
In shunning traditional-age college students, the
University of Phoenix fashioned itself as a place for adult
learners. This focus has been the force behind the growth
of the University of Phoenix Online. The university aimed
a corporate training effort at Fortune 1,000 companies,
promoting online courses in such fields as business
management, international business, e-business, information
technology, project management and marketing.
Phoenix operates on the basis that online students with
full-time jobs who enroll in such programs want more
education to advance their careers, not to learn Shakespeare
or to study ancient Greek civilization. The institution figures
that business travel and constraints on time enhance the
attraction of online learning for adults who want to learn
at hours and places convenient to them. Phoenix assumes
that such students do not want to study abstract theories,
that they seek to learn theory only to the extent that they
can wed knowledge to practice. Phoenix therefore hires
mostly practitioners as instructors, people who are part of the
work-a-day world and who teach on the side. Such a policy
is undoubtedly cheaper, too, than employing a full-time
traditional faculty.
Various colleges and universities have carefully structured
approaches to appeal to this same student market. The
University of Baltimore, an older institution with a traditional
history, went online as a survival mechanism, when its
former practices no longer paid dividends. The web was a life
preserver for the University of Baltimore, an urban commuter
institution where enrollments dwindled in the 1990s.
The university’s first online programwas a master of
business administration degree, offered as a companion
to a campus-based program accredited by the American
Association of Collegiate Schools of Business. The numbers
tell the story. In the fall of 1999, the total M.B.A. enrollment
was 538, with 522 in the regular classroom-based program
and 16 in the new online program. By the fall of 2001,
enrollment in the campus M.B.A. program had fallen to 365
but the online M.B.A. program had grown to 141 students,
producing a total M.B.A. enrollment of 506 students and
stabilizing the program.
By going online, the University of Baltimore no longer had
to rely on the willingness of students to commute to its urban
locale. This change could be seen in the fact that by 2001, the
online M.B.A program drew 52 percent of its students from
outside Maryland, while the on-campus program got only 27
percent of its students from outside the state. The experience
at the University of Baltimore demonstrates how commuter
institutions might use e-learning to change their enrollment
profile without having to spend money to accommodate on-
campus students.
Purveyors of online learning see elementary and
secondary schoolteachers as one of their biggest potential
markets. The numbers are huge. About one of every ten
undergraduates prepares to teach, and public and private
elementary and secondary schools employ some 3.5 million
teachers. Not only do these positions turn over with regularity,
but there are also
shortages of candidates
in some subject
areas and in certain
geographic locations.
The demand for
development by
educators already
working in schools
is inexhaustible.
State regulations and
collective bargaining
contracts mandate
that teachers engage in
continuing education, so-called in-service learning.
Schools and colleges of education are pondering how
Even blue-collar
and service workers
comprise a potential
constituency for adult-
oriented e-learning. Job
skills of all sorts seem
to lend themselves to
online instruction.
Working students,
whether they attend
classes in person or
online, usually want
courses that will
advance them in the
workplace, not in the
marketplace of ideas.