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Recruiting Intelligence

Online Teaching Implementation: Tuition & Marketing

Online learning is becoming integral part of teaching and education. We recently covered the impact of Khan Academy (Insight: Recruiting Students with Video: Lessons from Khan Academy), today we are looking at how public universities cope with that challenge and opportunity. We selected a report from American Association of State Colleges (AASCU) and Learninghouse, called Online Learning at Public Universities a new path to a degree, addressing the implementation of online teaching at universities. 

Elevator summary:

  • > 3 million students are taking online courses 
  • Most public universities use a centralized function to manage their online course portfolio
  • Majority of institutiions manage enrollment and marketing via traditional staffing depts.
  • 44% do not offer 24/7 technical support 
  • Tuition costs do not differ substantially from campus-based teaching
  • This global marketing opportunity remains untapped by large majority of public universities

We found this report valuable since it shows the substantial growth of online programs within public institutions and surveys the implementation of online courses within the institution. 

Bear with us as we look at the data heavy Table 1 (below), which highlights how public universiites manage the implementation. The second column was particularly interesting about a central online unit. From our professional experience, this is an important step that supports faculty (77%) and instructional design (70%). The skill sets required to create compelling digital teaching content require a multi-disciplinary team and not a single academic professional. These teams will require investment and univeristies will have to decide whether to invest internally, contract third parties or simply purchase the course content from other universities similar to purchasing text book content. 

The report distinguishes amont the universities with limited, intermediate and advanced experience of offering online courses. Graph1 (below) surprised us in that the online tuition level generally corresponds to the level of residential teaching, AND that universities with more experience in this field raise the tuition costs for online offerings.

We don't really have an explanation for that survey result. We haven't seen it in practice and as you know from your own experience, the move to digital content tends to lead to lower prices.  

We have previously noted the opportunity to leverage online programs for international markets. We like online education as a branding tool and enticement to learn more about your institution. We also think there is opportunity for limited incremental revenue.

Online courses can be a way for students to explore a university and get acquainted. Graph 2 (below) shows that about half of the public universiities expand their online course marketing nationally but more than two thirds of institutions do not market their online offering internationally.

In particular for graduate education, this venue is not yet used for international markets. Coursera, EdX and other MOOC providers have seen significant international user participation. These digital MOOC providers are also becoming the scale providers building education brands in their own right. In general, digital businesses can benefit from scale since the marginal cost of delivery are small. This will be one of the biggest challenges for public universities, which are used to their regional geographic mission and home turf advantage. Neither of these advantage exist in the digital space, where brand, scale and/or differentiation will be deciding factors. 

If you have a moment, you may want to read the polemic, but entertaining piece from University Ventures on  The Great Online Course Debate: Janet Napolitano, Rick Levin and Guy Smiley

Table 1


Graph 1



 Graph 2


 Source: Table 1, Graph 1 & 2 http://www.learninghouse.com/aascu2013-report/