Syracuse University continues to develop its own online programming, following a national trend in which online education is on the rise in secondary education.
Nationwide, overall enrollment in college has decreased, while online enrollment has increased. Colleges in the United States saw a 4.2% increase in students enrolled exclusively online and a 6.4% increase in those enrolled in some online courses between 2016 and 2017, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Universities need to incorporate online education programs into their curriculum to stay relevant and sustainable beyond the next decade, said Michael Frasciello, dean of SU’s University College. Students are requesting flexibility in courses as they become involved in other time-consuming, extracurricular activities, such as community service. Online classes provide that flexibility, he said.
“The future of higher education is a blended experience of residential, in-class instruction and online or virtual instruction,” Frasciello said. “Twenty-five years from now, full-time students living in Haven Hall will be attending Syracuse University and receiving education in both face-to-face physical and online as full-time students.”
Total enrollment across the country decreased by 0.4%, and the number of students enrolled in college without any online courses decreased by 3%. At SU, students have the opportunity to earn a degree in 19 online master’s programs, six online undergraduate programs and five online certificates of advanced study.
The university has been careful about creating the online courses and degrees it offers graduate and undergraduate students in order to ensure they equal the quality of on-campus classes, Frasciello said. Because of that, the university is only recently implementing many of its online classes.
“We could move real quickly and put a whole bunch of stuff online. But that’s not what Syracuse University is about,” Frasciello said. “While it may appear we’re moving rapidly relative to the rest of higher education and specifically to our peer set, we’re actually not. We’re moving much more deliberately.”
SU’s peer institutions vary on the number of online programs offered. Pennsylvania State University’s World Campus, for example, offers 55 online master’s programs. Boston University offers 18 online graduate programs, and the University of Connecticut eCampus offers eight.
The value of an online course compared to one in a classroom depends on the design of the course, said Alyssa Wise, an associate professor of learning sciences and educational technology at New York University.
Well-executed online courses allow a student to have more face-to-face interaction with instructors than they would in a lecture hall, she said. A poorly designed course hands the student information to view and study on their own.
“A lot of the reasons that schools are moving towards online programs have to do with making education programs accessible to people who might not be able to come to campus,” Wise said. “With online master’s, they’re often designed for working professionals who can’t quit their job and move to someplace like Syracuse to study.”
When online learning started becoming more prevalent in higher education, many people thought it would be more cost effective for both the university and the student, Wise said. The cost of experts who design the courses and of faculty who instruct them actually make the price of online education close to that of a face-to-face class, she said.
The cost of tuition for online graduate programs at SU is $9,720 for six credit hours in one 12-week quarter. In certain programs, including an Executive Master of Public Administration and Master of Science in Communications, the cost of the six credit hours increases. Most online graduate degrees at SU are between 30 and 36 credits.
The estimated price for on-campus graduate program tuition is $29,160, based on 18 credit hours per year.
SU has collaborated with online program management companies to build its online degrees and may continue to work with companies in the future, Frasciello said. Such companies specialize in programs in specific fields, making partnerships valuable for effective courses, he said.
2U Inc., one of these companies, has partnered with SU since 2014. The company supports 15 online graduate degrees at SU, Andrew Hermalyn, president of global partnerships at 2U, said in an email.
SU recently announced it would provide an online master’s degree in social work with David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics, which is set to launch in fall 2021. The university and 2U are also partnering to provide online short courses in collaboration with GetSmarter, a 2U brand, Hermalyn said. The company works with more than 70 higher education institutes and supports over 250 programs, both in person and online.
An online degree is not for all students, but many characteristics that a good on-campus student holds, such as time management and self-discipline, apply to online learning, Frasciello said.
Wise said students need to find the initiative to learn material for the class on their own time schedule.
The population of traditional-aged students who attend four-year colleges full-time is decreasing, Frasciello said. Instead, adults are going back to school to receive retraining degrees and alternative credentials.
“The nature of higher education is changing dramatically, year over year, as the demographic of the traditional student changes,” Frasciello said.