Everybody Ready for the Big Migration to Online College? Actually, No

Kevin Carey:

Nobody planned for an abrupt mass migration of traditional college courses to the internet.

But because of coronavirus, that’s where we are.

Hundreds of thousands of students have been told to clear out their belongings and head home, many through the end of the semester. In nearly every case, colleges have said that instruction will continue online.

Making it work will require much more than giving every professor a Zoom account and letting instruction take its course. That’s partly because not all students will be able to access or benefit from suddenly online courses equally.

Undergraduates at places like Harvard, Stanford and M.I.T. will largely have no problem getting online to complete their work. But one recent study found that roughly 20 percent of students have trouble with basic technology needs. Their data plans are capped, their computers break, or their connections fail. Those with technology challenges are disproportionately low-income and students of color, who are also more vulnerable to dropping out.

Those students need courses that are not just accessible, but also well designed.

In some ways, colleges have been building toward this moment for more than a decade. One-third of all undergraduates are enrolled in online classes now. Thirteen percent are learning exclusively online. Online course-taking has increased for 14 consecutive years, even as overall enrollment has declined.