Virtual rise shrinks value of campus in US minds

The value of a traditional, campus-based degree is being eroded by rising confidence in online courses, a US survey has revealed.

December 6, 2012

According to findings based on the responses of 1,300 people in the US, a generational divide is emerging on how online courses are perceived, with 61 per cent of those aged between 18 and 30 saying they believe that a virtual degree provides a similar quality of learning to those offered in traditional settings. The average across all ages was just under 50 per cent.

The survey, conducted by Northeastern University in Massachusetts, also showed that 68 per cent of younger adults believe online degrees will be as recognised and accepted by employers as traditional degrees in the next five to seven years, while the figure across all respondents was 53 per cent.

However, 84 per cent of those in the 18-to-30 age group concede that online degrees supplemented with classroom teaching offer a better education than a course delivered solely over the internet.

The survey also found that an estimated four out of five Americans believe that the US higher education system must adapt to remain internationally competitive, with that figure rising to nine out of 10 among the younger age group.

Joseph Aoun, president of Northeastern, said that Americans were proud of their higher education system but were also concerned about the future. “In overwhelming numbers, they’re telling us that the system of today will not meet the challenges of tomorrow,” he said, describing the findings as “a wake-up call”.

Elsewhere, the survey revealed that Americans are divided on whether a university education offers good value for money, with many saying cost prevented people from entering higher education.

Just 39 per cent say that the university system provided “excellent” or “good” value, while 60 per cent rate it as “fair” or “poor”.

Eighty-six per cent say cost is a substantial barrier that is increasingly putting higher education beyond the reach of the middle class, with half those surveyed (rising to 64 per cent of those between the ages of 18 and 30) saying that concerns about college costs had caused someone they knew to postpone attending college or shelve the idea.

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