Online Residential and the End of Course Scarcity

It’s pretty common in higher education for students not to get the courses they need to graduate on time. Here’s a quote from a recent report from UT Austin on graduation rates:

Research conducted by the task force also revealed that for many students an impediment to graduation is availability of courses needed to graduate. It is easy to see how course availability could play such an important role. In some majors, missing one course in a sequence, either because the course was not being taught in the semester it was needed, or because all of the seats were full, could mean a delay of graduation by one semester or by a full year. With a four-and-a-half year graduation rate of about 64%, those half-semester delays add up to many students delaying graduation beyond the four-year mark. Given the importance of course availability for overall graduation rates, it is critical that the university appoint a member of the administration to oversee availability of courses that are required for graduation.

I could find more global data on this, but if you are a public institution and you don’t see your on school in that statement, I’d be surprised.

The odd thing is that course scarcity doesn’t really need to exist. Here’s a simple plan to eliminate it — make it policy at your institution that every required course must have an online extension course. Students can choose the face-to-face version or the online version. If the face-to-face version fills up, the online version stays open (at least to matriculated students). Students are registering in advance of the course, so if you need to make additional hires to cover the online overflow, you can do that. Over time, though, you’d probably be able to anticipate registration and staff appropriately. Even better, you could organize the experience the way ds106 is run — with the online and face-to-face sections being taught as a single course by the same instructor.

With all required courses having online extensions the scheduling conflict nightmare goes away. And you can tell parents on the campus tour who ask “What if my kid can’t get the courses they need to graduate on time?” that actually your college guarantees that they can get the courses they need on time.

I’m a parent of an eighth grader who is quickly hurtling towards the college selection process, and I will tell you — that’s a feature that might lock me into one college over another.

This is just really one aspect of what a focus on online residential courses could do to solve the problems we face in public institutions; I plan to talk more about this in the coming months. If your institution is not looking at the possibilities of online residential, it’s probably past time.

4 thoughts on “Online Residential and the End of Course Scarcity

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