Annual Sloan/Babson survey: an (unplanned) part 3

After I had finished and posted some thoughts on the Sloan/Babson post-secondary online learning survey report, I came across a fascinating post. In my first post, I noted that according to the Babson report more than 7 million college students were taking online courses. The title of the blog post that caught my eye states its thesis quite well:

Clarification: No, there aren’t 7.1 million students in US taking at least one online class

The post was written by Phil Hill, a consultant with whom I’ve co-presented a couple of times on webinars to mixed K-12 and higher education audiences. I have always found Phil to be knowledgeable and thoughtful. In his post he writes about his review of data from the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) and its Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System which suggests about 5.5 million students are taking online courses. That’s still a larger number than the number of K-12 students taking online courses, but it’s also substantially smaller than the Babson estimate.

His post is well worth reading to explore conflicting estimates, but if nothing else the takeaway is that the Babson survey estimate may no longer be the best source of information for online learning in post-secondary education, and that the number of college students taking online courses is probably about 5.5 million, not 7.1 million.

It’s also a reminder that there’s no substitute for a federal government role in determining the number of students in online courses--whether college students or K-12 students. Some states are tracking online students--as Keeping Pace reports--but not nearly enough states are doing so to paint an accurate national picture.