Metro-East News

Are online classes causing summer enrollment on college campuses to shrink?

Online classes are growing at local universities and it’s affecting on-campus enrollment.
Online classes are growing at local universities and it’s affecting on-campus enrollment. MCT

The Carbondale campus of Southern Illinois University saw fewer summer students this year, while the Edwardsville campus saw a slight increase — and school officials are saying online classes had an impact on both.

On-campus summer enrollment at SIUC dropped 14.2 percent this year, or 571 fewer students than last. This is 1,334 fewer students than who were enrolled in summer 2014.

However, when online classes are factored in, the summer enrollment at SIUC is down 5.1 percent — still a drop, but not as significant. In fact, online class enrollment grew by 8.5 percent this year.

By comparison, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s summer enrollment was 6,144 — an increase of 3.5 percent, or 204 students over last summer.

SIUE continues to build its online muscle. Of the 32,000 credit hours taken this summer, approximately 50 percent were taken online, according to Scott Belobrajdic, director of enrollment management for the campus. “Last summer we were split 60-40 in favor of (traditional) on-campus (classes),” Belobrajdic said.

Educators say online classes are convenient, allow students to work toward one’s goals at their own pace and sometimes offer flexible deadlines. But not everyone has what it takes to be successful at taking online classes. For some, the more traditional classroom setting works best. Online classes test people’s time management skills and ability to learn independently.

Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey employs a different strategy to help make students taking online classes successful.

“Our data shows the completion and success rates (for online learning) are better for students with a grade point average of 2.7 or above, so we are restricting enrollment in online courses to help improve the success of students,” said Lori Artis, vice president of administration.

Researchers who have studied retention among students who take online courses have found that anxiety due to technology failure and lack of instructor feedback are primary reasons for online student dropout. In the online environment, students tend to become frustrated when technology does not function well and lose confidence in their work when they do not receive instructor feedback, they say.

At other area colleges:

▪  McKendree University’s summer enrollment was approximately 1,106, which spokeswoman Lisa Brandon said was “about even” with the summer before. Very few courses are offered on the campus in the summer, Brandon said; almost all are online.

“(Students) may want to jump start or accelerate their academic program or career,” Brandon said. “Taking summer classes can also enable undergrads to take a lighter load in the fall or spring semesters so that they may participate more easily in co-curricular activities.”

▪  Southwestern Illinois College saw a drop in total summer enrollment despite a slight increase in online classes. Enrollment for 2016 was 4,716 students, of which 1,691 were students taking online classes. In 2015, enrollment was 5,086, of which 1,599 were online students.

▪  Lewis & Clark Community College also had summer enrollment that was down slightly from the year before — 1,908 students, compared with 2,047 in 2015. Online enrollment was 756 students, a decrease of 18 students from the year before, but still on an upward trend, with nearly 100 more students taking online classes this year than they did in 2012, according to Artis.

▪  Figures for Lindenwood University-Belleville were not immediately available.

SIUC’s chief marketing and communications officer Rae Goldsmith cautioned against viewing summer enrollment as a foreboding sign of what's to come in the fall. “Summer enrollment is typically not a significant predictor of fall enrollment due to the many factors that influence student decisions,” she told the Southern Illinoisan.

But SIUC has battled a pattern of decreasing enrollment for years, while SIUE has seen increasing enrollment almost every year for the past decade or so. Belobrajdic said while solid numbers for the freshman class are not yet available, it looks to be at least 2,000 students beginning at SIUE this fall once again. The record-high freshman class of 2015 saw 90 percent continue from fall to spring.

Last spring, SIUE reported the largest spring enrollment in the university’s history at 13,346 students, of which 10,214 were full-time students. Meanwhile, SIUC’s spring enrollment of 15,806 was down 878 students or 5.3 percent from the previous spring.

Some information was provided by the Associated Press.

10 advantages to taking online classes

  • Lower costs — Although tuition for some online programs can be as expensive as traditional colleges, going the online route can significantly cut the cost of your overall college in other areas. Since you learn online and from the comfort of your own home, you won't need to buy school supplies, pay for room and board or worry about things such as meal plans. Most materials are also available for download, saving money on expensive texts and workbooks.
  • Less pressure — Taking a class online means that you can read and learn the material and do the work on your own time. Doing course work on your own means less pressure to keep up with other students in the class since you'll be working individually rather than in a group. Online courses usually provide deadlines for assignments, so with proper time management and organization skills, you don't need to worry about how well or efficiently other students are doing in their work.
  • Flexibility — You can complete online classes regardless of external conditions, personal commitments or those unexpected life incidents. Hop online at any time and check out what assignment is due next or what chapters you need to read. With the flexibility of online classes, you can prioritize your time and work on your own pace.
  • Skill development — Not only can online courses increase your knowledge in a particular subject area, but they can teach lessons invaluable to other areas of your life. Online classes leave you on your own, without a physical classroom to attend and a teacher constantly prodding you to get your work done and keep your grades up. Self-discipline and commitment skills go a long way in successfully completing online classes.
  • Individual instruction — Since you'll be working individually on your school assignments, you'll have individual access to your professor via email and other online media. Direct access means that you have the ability to ask more personalized questions that you might be intimidated to ask in a traditional classroom setting.
  • Networking opportunities — Individual instruction does not mean that you will be completely isolated from the students also enrolled in your online class. These courses generally include message boards, which give you the opportunity to discuss your work and make connections with other students — no matter where they are located. This can prove invaluable as it provides insight and different perspectives on the same assignment. Most importantly, you have full control over the amount of exposure you have to the other students.
  • Location — Courses online allow the opportunity to take a class at a college or university that you may not have realistic access to geographically. Whether you live on the East Coast and want to take a class offered on the West Coast or you travel extensively and want to continue your education, you don't need to be in a specific location to access an online course.
  • Comfort — Online classes don't require a dress code, so if you wake up in the morning and feel like lounging around in your PJs or favorite sweats, go for it. Doing your work while lying on the couch watching your favorite soaps beats sitting in a hard seat under artificial lighting next to the kid who didn't shower after partying all night.
  • Specialized degree programs — Most online degree programs do not require you to take electives. This allows you to take the minimum number of classes needed to graduate with the knowledge necessary to be successful in your chosen field of study. This saves time, cuts out classes that you're not interested in taking and allows you to focus more on the classes you want to take.
  • Transferring credits — If you are enrolled in a traditional college or university but are unable to schedule a certain class that you need to graduate, most online programs allow you to take a class and transfer the credit. This can prove invaluable if a class is a prerequisite for graduation and isn't offered by your more traditional school.