AUSTIN – With enrollment in online coursework growing at 10 times the rate of higher education enrollment overall, the 83rd Texas Legislature should remove barriers to the expansion of online higher education, according to a report published today by the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

The Future Face of Higher Education: Online Learning in the New Economy,” was written by Thomas K. Lindsay, Ph.D., director of the Foundation’s Center for Higher Education. The report may be downloaded from the Foundation’s website,

“In one sense, online education may be said to democratize higher education. Students come to school with different strengths and weaknesses, and advances in online-learning technology better enable each student to fulfill his potential through finding the pace and path that fits him best,” Dr. Lindsay said. “Online learning also increases access for those currently unable to avail themselves of brick-and-mortar education, such as working adults, parents of young children, those living in remote rural areas, and those who cannot afford the high and ever-escalating cost of traditional higher education.”

The report cites a 2009 review by the U.S. Department of Education that concluded blended instruction – a combination of online and face-to-face instruction – “has been more effective” in teaching students than face-to-face instruction alone.

Western Governors University – an accredited, private, non-profit university that offers the bulk of its coursework online – established a Texas branch last year. It already has 2,300 students and is receiving approximately 1,000 applications per month. Its chancellor predicts that its enrollment will grow to 20,000 students by the end of the decade.

The report recommends three actions to expand the availability of online higher education in Texas:

– Decouple the Early College High School program from traditional brick-and-mortar colleges and include a curriculum of Internet-delivered courses provided by private non-profit and for-profit institutions with national and regional accreditation.

– The Governor should appoint a commission to review the Core Curriculum requirements at Texas public community colleges, colleges, and universities in order to learn whether access to those programs via the Internet would improve the civic education of Texas college students and citizens.

– Expand the online degree rider that was successfully added to HB 1 during the 2011 session. The rider requires public institutions of higher education to submit to the Coordinating Board a cost study of the four most popular degree plans that can be made available online. This cost study should be expanded to include all STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) courses, not covered by the first study, plus all lecture courses in all fields.

“Personal experience in the classroom has shown me the necessity of face-to-face instruction in the small-discussion-group format required for writing courses and for much of the humanities in general,” Dr. Lindsay said. “But such courses represent the minority of offerings in most universities. The majority of courses today could be adapted to fully-online or hybrid formats, with significant cost savings, increased access, and equal or superior outcomes.”

Thomas K. Lindsay, Ph.D., is the Director of the Center for Higher Education at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation is a non-profit, free-market research institute based in Austin.

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