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Distance Education in the USG: Supply and Demand Up Significantly

Atlanta — October 14, 2009

Student enrollment in online courses offered by the University System of Georgia (USG) has risen 35 percent in just the past year, and the USG’s online offerings have expanded significantly, the Board of Regents learned during an update today on the USG’s distance-education efforts.

In the two years since the launching of Georgia ONmyLINE (GOML) –, a searchable catalog of the online courses and programs offered by all 35 USG institutions statewide, the 35 programs and 1,600 courses offered online have now expanded to 169 programs and nearly 2,870 courses, according to Dr. Kris Biesinger, associate vice chancellor for Information and Instructional Technology (OIIT) Services. In addition, she noted the GOML website has been visited by more than 90,000 visitors from 50 states and 140 countries.

The number of students who are taking at least one online course from a USG institution in any given semester now stands at 43,000, a little less than 15 percent of the nearly 300,000 students enrolled at System institutions.

What kind of student turns to a computer rather than showing up in an actual classroom?

“When you think of distance learners, you probably think of someone who works all day, then logs on to their course in the evenings after their children are in bed,” said Dr. Catherine Finnegan, OIIT’s director of online instructional support services and Biesinger’s co-presenter. “You may think that they never have parking problems, have to use the library or meet with a faculty member on campus. But, to be honest, very few distance students take classes exclusively off-campus. In fact, the vast majority are picking up one or two online courses that fit in better with their busy lives or that help them to meet graduation requirements in a more timely fashion.”

Finnegan said the demographics of the USG’s online learners – revealed by a market analysis study conducted earlier this year – are in line with national trends. “More women than men take distance-education courses from the USG,” she said. “Nearly half of all of our online learners are over the age of 24, or non-traditional students, and 31 percent of them are African American. In fact, these courses attract a slightly higher percentage of minority students overall than are in the general USG population.”

Where are these students taking their courses? The analysis shows that the University System’s two-year, access colleges and state universities generate the most distance semester credit hours each year, and the four USG research institutions the least, Finnegan said. Georgia Perimeter College far outstripped any other USG institution, having generated more than 94,500 distance semester credit hours during fiscal year 2009.

In her presentation, Finnegan acknowledged that, “Probably one of the most frequently asked questions about online learning is, ‘is it really quality learning?’” She was able to report that, “In a national study released this past June, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) found that students who took all or part of their instruction online performed better, on average, than those taking the same courses solely through face-to-face instruction. We believe that our USG institutions are making decisions that ensure quality in our online offerings.”

“Distance education is an approach that USG institutions can use to address a number of our strategic goals, such as building enrollment capacity despite constraints on classroom space,” Biesinger said. “And, as the DOE study shows, we don’t have to worry that increasing online courses will lead to a drop in quality. In fact, quality remains equal to or even higher than traditional classroom instruction.

“As our enrollment growth in the University System continues to climb, we must be creative so that we can continue to serve our traditional student populations while being aggressive in serving currently underserved populations,” Biesinger said in summary. “USG institutions need to fully recognize the importance of delivering education in multiple formats and increase the integration of distance learning into their curricula.”

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