What are we counting in online education?

There has been lots of talk of a higher ed. bubble lately.

I’m not sure whether I should worry about this, what exactly it means and whether what Audrey Watters wrote about Harvard on Hack Education pertains to me and my students at a community college.

Similarly, the idea that attending Harvard is all about learning? Yeah. No one pays a quarter of a million dollars just to read Chaucer. The implicit promise is that you work hard to get there, and then you are set for life. It can lead to an unhealthy sense of entitlement. “It’s what you’ve been told all your life, and it’s how schools rationalize a quarter of a million dollars in debt,” Thiel says.

After all, maybe no one spends a quarter million dollars to read Chaucer but it’s probably more reasonable to spend $700 to learn some algebra.

Cost of four credits of College Algebra at my college. Note the non-resident tuition.

Various people would claim that online education has played a part in the bubble that may (or may not) exist. I’m agnostic on the issue-mostly due to being ill-informed. I have tried to imagine how my courses would transition to an online environment. I have massively increased my use of online course management systems to increase student engagement. But I haven’t taught online.

Nonetheless, I try to keep up to date.

My understanding of a bubble is that it tends to occur when people become more concerned with the perceived monetary value of a thing, and begin to ignore the actual value (or other qualities) of thing.

From our side of the business of higher ed, the things with value are students.

Every semester my college sends around enrollment figures. This turns out to be fairly tricky to measure at the community college level, as we have many, many students who take one or two classes at a time. So I am accustomed to the difference between HC (head count) and FTE (full-time equivalent).

Until today I had not noticed that we don’t do HC for online courses. Instead we do, well…

Seats sold?!? Remember that bit about the monetary value of a thing?


One response to “What are we counting in online education?

  1. I’d be interested in your take on how the purpose of college has changed over the past decade or two. We on the K-12 level have been, and continue to be, innundated with the “college for all” rhetoric, which is supported by the pragmatic reality that a job that can reasonably support you and your family almost always requires a college degree these days. Of course, this is very different from the assertion that all people are intellectually ready and able to handle college, though they are often posed as inextricably entwined…

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