Factors that shape administrators' decisions for implementing online courses in small private universities.

Osborn, Kevin D., Ph.D., University of Kansas, 2009


The recent Sloan report found that online course enrollments are increasing 13% annually. This study investigated how the vision and philosophy of the academic leadership in small private universities influence the development of online learning. Investigations regarding online learning leadership have noted four core issues: 1) a clear institutional vision for online learning, 2) policy for integrating online learning, 3) budgeting for integrating online learning, and 4) planning for outcomes and assessment

The researcher selected 8 small private institutions that offered online courses or programs and were part of the 18 Kansas Independent College Association (KICA). Onsite interviews were conducted with Academic Affairs VPs at seven KICA institutions. The interviewer asked a series of questions concerning online learning policy, definitions, budget, and outcomes assessment. Recordings were transcribed and data were evaluated, coded, and organized into central themes using Boyatzis' framework (1998). A comparison of independent rater's coding to the primary rater's coding using Cohen's Kappa found a high (0.83) correlation.

Results revealed an overall lack of vision and planning to support the growth of online learning. All participants stated that the desire to increase revenue was the primary reason for considering online courses while expanding educational offerings was secondary. Participants acknowledged that online learning was gaining importance in higher education. Many institutions view their on-campus experience as central to their mission. Leaders often associate online learning more with adult learners than with the undergraduate residential student body. Consequently, leaders often do not choose online learning for their undergraduate programs.

Academic leaders should explore online courses as a way to extend the institution's academic reach and best serve the needs of the students, faculty, and community. The PresidentÕs role in advocating for online learning is critical. Presidents may wish to take a leadership role in assuring that at least one fully or partially online undergraduate course is taught online. This approach will serve to assess the viability of online courses for their institutions. Additionally, small private institutions could benefit from their peer institutions by forming alliances to support online program development and training efforts.