Another school year has begun and the enrollment of online learners will be the largest in history.  It’s quite a remarkable change if you consider the negative perception online education had just two decades ago.  When online education was first emerging, many accredited colleges shied away from this style of learning.  Online education became synonymous with low quality degrees and subpar applicants.  However, with the creation of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC)  and the development of Kahn Academy, iTunes U, Coursera, Udemy and TED Talks, the perception of online education has be revolutionized.   Talented, brilliant educators and thought leaders were now able to reach millions with high-quality material and presentations. But, there was still one thing missing, and that was an accredited degree.

With the online model established as a viable solution, colleges have now begun to embrace this style of learning and they are integrating the online component into degree programs, something that non-accredited learning methods cannot offer. I firmly believe that this acceptance of online learning will forever change the higher education landscape. Colleges and universities that do not create high-quality online programs will begin to parish.

The average public universities are already hurting. Public funding is decreasing, programs have been eliminated, salaries are being frozen, and professors are being furloughed.  A higher education bubble is being predicted by a number of financial gurus. The public institutions need additional private funding or they need new way to generate additional profits.  With the ability to bring on additional students through online learning, public universities have the opportunity to increase students and therefore tuition and profits.  However, since students will no longer have to deal with out-of-state tuition fees or the expense of traveling to a distant university, public universities that offer the highest quality online programs will be most frequently sought out.  Public universities with lesser quality online programs or inferior brand names will lose students and ultimately fail.  If the average student has access to every average public university, the early-adopter universities will flourish and the laggards will fall to the wayside.

For top-tier universities and research institutes, like MIT, Harvard, and Stanford, the situation is different.  These schools are very selective with their admissions process. They will not lower their application standards to increase enrollment and there are only a limited number of top quality students.  That being said, top-tier universities actively recruit the best students from across the globe.  By offering online learning or a hybrid system of asynchronous and synchronous, these top tier universities can increase enrollment by accepting top-tier applicants across the globe that would have difficulty relocating. Whether the issue stems from visa difficulties from students abroad or employment commitments at prestigious companies like Goldman or Google, the university will now be able to attract these students that were once unattainable.

The bottom line is this: colleges must join the online learning movement or be left in the dust.  With MIT research showing that a blended-learning approach of both synchronous and asynchronous instruction is the most successful method for today’s learners, colleges must start this transition today. Within ten years, I firmly believe that today’s third graders will be expecting 100% online asynchronous models when it’s their time to choose a college.  As a higher education provider, your short term business plan must include online learning or there will be no need for to create a long term plan.

– Bill McIntosh
President of BrightTree Studios