CSU OnlinePlus revenue increased 53 percent over last three years

By Corrie Sahling and Austin Briggs

The last decade has seen people transition a large part of their lives to the digital world –– from shopping, to finding old friends, to the perfect job, a large percentage of the population has come to see the Internet as an integral part of their lives.

Not surprisingly, many students in higher education are opting to take their learning into the digital realm.

A 2011 study by the Babson Survey Research Group, an organization that tracks trends in higher education, found exponential growth in the number of students taking online, or “distance” courses.

The study found that over 6 million people and nearly one-third of all students in higher education were taking at least one online course.

At CSU, this trend is reflected in the amount of students enrolling in the university’s online component: CSU OnlinePlus.

In the fiscal year of 2012 enrollment topped out  at 10,500 unique students, with 5,300 students enrolled in credit courses.

“Enrollments in credit courses is our most important metric,” said Hunt Lambert, the associate provost of continuing education.

Likewise, between 2010 and 2013, revenue increased 53 percent from $21.9 million to a projected $33.5 million.

To enroll in a class using OnlinePlus, the student must first be accepted into the university, just like any other CSU student must do. Last year, people from every state and 34 countries were taking courses through the program. Unlike CSU Global which is a separate entity within the CSU system, CSU OnlinePlus is contained within the CSU Fort Collins campus.

Taylor Jackson, a senior biological and chemical engineer, has taken two classes through CSU OnlinePlus. Last summer, she enrolled in a 300-level course through CSU OnlinePlus while working a full time job. She said it made her life easier to take it online at her own pace and the level of learning was the same as the in-classroom experience.

This semester, she has an online course in addition to full credit hours. Her only complaint is she had to pay full tuition for the three extra credits when she was already enrolled full time at the university.

“I think online is better for the stuff I’ve used it for because its very scientific, and a lot of memorization,” Jackson said. “I don’t have to be in class and learning it. It’s been a lot better to learn it at my own pace.”

Lambert said last year $24.7 out of $30 million generated through CSU OnlinePlus “landed back on campus,” with the surplus money being used to pay faculty that taught and designed the distance courses, and departments and  organizations that supported distance students in any way.

“We pay our way and try to break even and have enough surplus to fund program development,” Lambert said.

He attributes the increase in enrollment numbers partly to advances in technology; high bandwidth, new methods of delivering online content and expanding global access to broadband connections have made online classrooms easily accessible to wide swaths of the population.

The days of staring at a 60-minute pre-recorded video of a classroom lecture are gone.
Instead, online classes today force students to actively participate throughout the lesson. If the all-knowing algorithm detects a student is not paying attention, it will send a reminder to the distracted student.

“Today the term is ‘engaged learning,’” said Lambert. “It’s an environment that doesn’t let you sit there and go into a powerpoint fog.”

CSU differs from many other online programs in that the curriculum and content is designed inside the academic units individual , compared to other online programs that usually hire third party developers.

BCE pays for all the developThe Institute for Teaching and Learning (TILT) has a team of 10 that works with faculty who will be teaching CSU OnlinePlus courses to develop the curriculum and shape each course to fit the individual needs of the instructor and class. TILT also designs the courses, allowing the department to be nimble and responsive to the needs of the distance program.

“To make them good you have to work hard. It’s really easy to design a bad online course,” said Mike Palmquist, associate vice provost of TILT. “You want to engage your students, give them challenging assignments, you want them to spend time on the course.”