Why Higher Education Benefits from Increasing Online Courses & Degree Programs

Online Education 7
Learning Strategies / Online Education

Why Higher Education Benefits from Increasing Online Courses & Degree Programs

Over the last few years, enrollment has continued to dwindle in traditional in-person college courses, but shown a clear increase in online classes (Seaman et al., 2018). As a result, it is important to understand why, in addition to how higher education, students and faculty can benefit from increasing courses in an online modality. 

Literature Review

Why should an increase in online education be an advantage to higher education institutions? Palvia et al. (2018) have found several incentives for institutions to offer more online courses, technologically, economically, and operationally. For example, colleges can worry less about providing and adding more traditional brick and mortar-styled campus space that would occupy dorms, libraries, offices and classrooms (Palvia et al., 2018). Instead, institutions can expand their online outreach to a more diverse international student population and attract an increasingly unique and equitable global pool of teaching faculty (Palvia et al., 2018).

Seaman et al. (2018) discovered in their most recent research tracking online learning trends in the United States that as enrollment continues to increase to six million students enrolled in at least one online course, as of 2016, that this number continues to grow. They also found it is predominantly international students who are opting for online courses at U.S. institutions (Seaman et al., 2018). 

American institutions are continuously focused on diversifying their student body to add to the multicultural perspectives and experiences of all students.

Krislove (2019) revealed that the National Center for Education Statistics reported high school graduates over the next decade are expected to only increase by .2 %, which is a significant decrease compared to a 6% graduation rate American Institutions grew comfortably accustomed to over the last decade, ushering in one freshman class after another. As a result, higher education must now turn to international students as a major stakeholder to boost incoming revenue and keep institutions thriving (Krislove, 2019).

International students contribute to over $39 billion dollars in tuition at American institutions, but it has become increasingly difficult for them to travel into the U.S. to attend classes due to immigration issues (Krislove, 2019). By increasing online courses and degree programs at US institutions, enrollment continues to increase, improving global outreach with expanded modalities, providing opportunities for students to learn transferable technological skills as they self-pace their learning experience, and institutions benefit from improved retention and graduation rates (Popovich & Neel, 2005; Palvia et al., 2018).  

Students who do enroll in online courses benefit from well-designed classes with meaningful and challenging course content, effective communication, ongoing effective interaction between themselves and their professor and classmates, as well as opportunities to apply and demonstrate learning (Soffer & Nachmias, 2017; Dixson, 2012). Students also benefit from not having to report to a physical place repeatedly throughout the week, but instead by having a credit-bearing course and all related materials easily accessible online at their convenience that are affordable (Ilgaz & Gulbahar, 2017).

Çağlar and Turgut (2014) identified the most valued advantages for students when choosing to take an online course as being an efficient use of one’s time and educational expenses are reduced. Other important factors students take into consideration when enrolling in an online course include obligations regarding full-time employment, a disability that makes attending classes in-person a challenge, and financial problems that interfere with paying for on-campus expenses (Ilgaz & Gulbahar, 2017). Graduate students were also quite favorable toward being able to continue to work while expanding their academic knowledge (Ilgaz & Gulbahar, 2017). 

In addition to the benefits that students and a higher education institution gain from increasing online courses, it was found that faculty are at an advantage as well. By training to teach online, faculty strengthen their technological skills, develop online learning ecologies, reach a larger network of diverse students (i.e international students, stay-at-home parents, military families and people serving our country, non-traditional adult students, disabled students colleagues who teach online or hybrid in other disciplines, and more). Online courses are also more accessible through virtual office hours rather than in a physical space for a limited time on campus (Palvia et al, 2018). 


When the COVID-19 crisis required most higher education institutions to pivot to an online modality in March 2020, many teaching faculty across the United States found themselves unprepared for this global emergency (Kalantzis & Cope, 2020). Now as institutions begin to consider how to return to campus, Kalantzis & Cope (2020) caution that colleges should not be so hasty. Enrollment trends must be taken seriously, regardless of any predisposition some faculty have had toward online learning before the COVID-19 pandemic (Seamen et al., 2018). Any educator that has taught in higher education for over ten to fifteen years can attest to the significant drop in enrollment in traditionally taught college and university courses long before the pandemic began combined with the declining graduation rate. With the changing needs of our students whose lives now include working full-time jobs, parenting, sports, and searching for alternatives that can best accommodate their needs or busy lives, the benefits of online learning and the array of instructional technologies available demonstrate an excellent alternative.


Çağlar, E. S. & Turgut, T., 2014. Factors Effecting E-Learning Preference: An Analysis on Turkish University Students from Government and Private Institutions. Emerging 

Markets Journal, Vol. 4, (1), pp. 42-48.

Cosnefroy, L., Fenouillet, F., Mazé, C., & Bonnefoy, B. (2018). On the relationship between the forethought phase of self-regulated learning and self-regulation failure. Issues in

Educational Research, Vol. 28(2), pp. 329–348.

Dixson, M. D. (2012). Creating effective student engagement in online courses: What do students find engaging? Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, Vol. 10(2), 1–13.

Ilgaz, H. & Gulbahar, Y. (2017). Why do learners choose online learning: The learners’ voices. 

International Conference E-Learning, Why%20Do%20Learners%20Choose%20Online%20Learning.pdf

Kalantzis, M. & Cope, B. (2020). After the COVID-19 crisis: Why higher education may (and perhaps should) never be the same. Contemporary Issues in Higher Education. Vol. 40  (1). Pp. 51-55.

Krislove, M. (2019). Why international students are good for colleges, universities and America.

Forbes. Education.

Popovich, C. J., & Neel, R. E. (2005). Characteristics of distance education programs at accredited business schools. American Journal of Distance Education, 19, pp. 229–240.

Sadowski, C., Stewart, M., & Pediaditis, M. (2018). Pathway to success: Using students’ insights and perspectives to improve retention and success for university students from low socioeconomic (LSE) backgrounds. International Journal of Inclusive Education, Vol. 22(2), pp. 158-175.

Seaman, J. E., Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2018). Grade increase: Tracking distance education in the United States. Wellesley: The Babson Survey Research Group

Soffer, T., Kahan, T., & Livne, E. (2017). E‐assessment of online academic courses via students’ activities and perceptions. Studies in Educational Evaluation, 54, pp. 83–93.

Soffer, T. & Nachmias, R. (2017). Effectiveness of learning in online academic courses compared to face-to-face courses in higher education. Journal of Computer Assisted  Learning. 34: pp. 534-543.


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