Is taking a college course over the Internet just as good as attending an in-person seminar? The nation's college presidents think so.
Slightly more than half of 1,055 presidents of public and private colleges said that an online-only course has the same educational value as an in-person class, according to the Pew Research Center and the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Only 29 percent of the general public agreed, including fewer than 40 percent of students who have taken online courses.
College administrators have turned to online courses as a cost-saving measure, as a way to offer popular courses to the most students possible, and in order to accommodate part-time or distance students (many of whom earn their degrees entirely online). Half of college presidents said a majority of their students will be taking online courses within 10 years.
But the availability of online courses varies widely by the type of college. Only 60 percent of four-year private colleges offer online courses, compared to 89 percent of four-year public schools. Private college presidents are also more skeptical of their value, with only 36 percent saying they are as good as in-person courses, compared to 50 percent of public college presidents who think so. Meanwhile, two-thirds of the presidents of two-year colleges say an online course is just as good as an in-person one.
Forty six percent of people who graduated college in the last 10 years said they have taken an online course, according to the survey.
But only 39 percent of students who have taken courses over the Internet said that the course's educational value was equal to that of an in-person class, suggesting that students have experienced online education are in disagreement with college presidents on the matter.
A meta-analysis by the Department of Education of 50 studies of online courses showed that they can be "modestly" more effective than in-person classes. Courses that combined virtual elements with in-person instruction were more effective than either online-only or classroom-only classes. But providing that combination erases the cost savings of an entirely virtual class, making it less attractive to schools.