Arizona State University’s College of Extended Education was designed to provide courses at flexible times for working adults, yet 62 percent of their online students are undergraduates squeezing in an extra course from the comfort of home.
"Our goal is providing access to education for working adults, but they’re not always the ones who are buying our product," said William A. Verdini, associate dean of the college.
Rather, working adults are increasingly opting to enroll in for-profit institutions such as the University of Phoenix even though it’s more expensive than ASU. A full year’s tuition at ASU is $3,953, and one credit hour is $183. The University of Phoenix charges about $440 per credit hour.
Although officials at both institutions dismiss the notion that they are competitors, they are competing for the same pool of students: Working adults who opt for the flexibility of online courses.
Created in 1990, the College of Extended Education was designed to provide a network of courses, taught by ASU faculty and instructors, at flexible times for working adults. The college offers credit classes, degree programs, certificates and professional development. This year the college offered 243 courses online.
The University of Phoenix capitalized on computer technology’s potential in 1989 when it began offering courses online. The university’s model for online courses entails small class size (up to 10) and interactive components. Instructors monitor the delivery of courses designed by faculty.
The model is working for the University of Phoenix. Net income for University of Phoenix Online in fiscal year 2002-03 was $110.5 million, an increase of 71.6 percent compared to the previous year.
Verdini said that success raises some questions at his college: "Are there ways we can improve our offerings? Here is an institution (University of Phoenix) out there making lots of money and attracting students. Can’t we do some of that and still retain faculty and student interaction?"
To improve the quality of online delivery, the college has begun to offer tech support and increased training for students and faculty.
The college also is considering using students as moderators for online courses to help ease the burden placed on faculty and teaching assistants. So much communication takes place via email that some instructors complain they spend too much time on correspondence. In fact, some departments won’t let untenured faculty members teach online courses, Verdini said.
"I believe that there is a need and room in the education market for both models," Verdini said. "But it would be a shame if every institute of higher education moved to that model. I believe society would lose something very important. But competition in all of its forms always improves a product."