Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Meeting the Governor's Goal

I've been looking at the math involved in trying to meet the Governor's goal for Minnesota Online. By 2015 he would like to see 25% of our enrollments delivered online.

First, let's look at the most recent completed year - FY08.

  • Classroom (01) = 114,364 FYE = 81.8%
  • Internet (03) = 12,806 FYE = 9.2%
  • Web Enhanced (09) = 3,718 FYE = 2.7%
  • Web Supplied (10) = 7,631 FYE = 5.5%
  • Other (01, 02, 04, 06, 08) = 1,361 FYE = 1%
  • Total (all media codes) = 139,880 FYE = 100%
For those of you not familiar with our coding system, let me try to explain. In MnSCU we use media codes to identify different delivery methods.
  • Media code 01 is the traditional classroom face-to-face learning arrangement.
  • Media code 03 is for online learning, although it is possible to have up to two required time and place events - such as campus/proctored exams, labs, and the like (see another post of how different states define distance education).
  • Media code 09 is called "web-enhanced" learning which is what many people call hybrid. There is reduced seat-time in the traditional classroom and some required work to be completed online.
  • Media code 10 is pretty goofy. It is called Web Supplied and it is for any course that uses the VLE (Desire2Learn in our case) as a supplement to the classroom. There is no reduced seat-time for these classes. Many schools do not properly code these classes. In other words, some of the courses classified as 01 should be classified as 10.
  • All the other media codes are for other, mostly dying, types of delivery such as ITV, CD ROM, and Satellite delivery.
We have to make some assumptions about what the governor means when he says 25% online. I assume that he means 25% of the enrollment/FYE in MnSCU media code 03.

I do not assume that he means we should include media code 09 (hybrid) and media code 10 in reaching the 25% goal. If we do include those other media codes as being "somewhat online," then we are already at 17.4 percentage points on the way to 25 percentage points. Even closer if we were to properly code classes as a "10" if they use the VLE in any way.

One clue to the Governor's intention was revealed when he himself used the 9.2% figure during his press conferences around the state in late November. Therefore, I've been crunching some numbers to see what enrollments might look like if we are to grow our online courses to the point where they make up 25% of the total enrollment.

Looking at the enrollments for the past five years has been instructive. During that period (2004-2008), overall FYE (full-year equivalent students) has grown by just over 10,000 for an average growth of about 2,000 FYE per year. Can we expect that to continue for the next 5-7 years as well? I have no idea, but we have to make assumptions about all of this so I'm willing to assume that it can continue at that rate.

Additionally, looking at the percentage breakdowns of the various media codes, we see that there has been a reduction in FYE in traditional classes from 95% in 2004 to 81.8% in 2008. During that time the percentage for online courses (media 03) went from 3% to 9.2% while the percentage for the other web-related courses (09 & 10) went from 1% to 8.2%. All the other media codes combined basically stayed constant at about 1%. I'll try to embed a spreadsheet below with the numbers.

So, based on these figures, I'll try to make some educated (Masters in Accounting, if it matters) guesses on how the enrollments would look if we were to reach that goal of 25% online.

  • 1) We will continue to experience an overall growth rate of 2,000 FYE per year through 2015.
  • 2) We will continue to see a rate of growth of 15% per year in enrollments in the other web-ish classes (09 & 10). The annualized rate over the past 4 years has been more like 20%, so 15% is a conservative estimate.
  • 3) We will have a steady growth in the online offerings and enrollments over this time period, not big jumps and small lags. This results in an annual growth rate of 15.35% to bring us to the 25% goal for online courses in 2015.
To see the results using these assumptions, click on the second and third tabs of the embedded spreadsheet. What you'll see is that as our overall enrollments grow by 2,000 FYE per year, the on-ground (traditional or 01 media code) enrollments drop from 109,470 FYE in 2010 to 80,909 FYE in 2015. During this same time, the growth in online enrollments and web-ish (09 & 10) enrollments climb to nearly 47% of our total enrollments.

Of course, I could be wrong. (you can bank on that)

So, this begs a whole host of questions. What are we going to do with all these buildings when our utilization rates fall by 30%? Will this make it harder to get bonding money approved for buildings since we are greatly reducing our usage of them? How can we possibly triple our online enrollments while still maintaining quality? What kind of results do we expect if we begin forcing faculty to teach online who otherwise have no interest in doing so? I have about 50 more questions rolling around in there, but I'm sure you catch the drift.

Here's my surprising conclusion. I actually think it is possible to reach this goal. I'm not saying that we should necessarily strive to reach the goal, but I think it could be done. However, I don't think that it could possibly be done under the current format of Minnesota Online, under the current allocation formula for funding the colleges and universities in MnSCU, under the current configuration of our VLE and the governance structure surrounding it, and under the current lack of collaboration that occurs among the various colleges and universities. Other than that, it should work.

If the spreadsheet embed doesn't show for you, use this link.

1 comment:

Casey Fryda, APR said...

Good points. There's another issue. To be successful in online classes, students must be more self-motivated (because they don't have to face their teacher and class in person). For some students, online is the only way they can attend. But to assume that 25 percent of students will succeed this way seems risky. If he's wrong, you trade a system that generally works (at least for 18-year-olds) for a system that may decrease students' odds of success.

Northeast Wisconsin Technical College offers a mix of partially-online and online classes similar to yours. We posted a free Online Readiness survey that helps users find out whether they're likely to succeed online. Anyone can see it at

Good luck!