Utah's Course Choice Program: By the Numbers
As part of SB65, the course choice legislation, Utah must generate an annual report of activity via the Statewide Online Education Program (SOEP), as well as a report on provider performance which we will discuss at a later date. The school year 2012-13 report was released in November 2013. Today we’ll look at the annual report, which includes enrollment numbers, percentage of SOEP enrollments by district, types of courses taken, and other details about the students and enrollments. Notable highlights include:
- The number of unique students in the program increased from 512 in SY 2011-12 to 819 in SY 2013-14. This was a 60% increase, but still represents only about .5% of the state’s high school population.
- The SOEP reported 855 half credit enrollments for SY 2012-13, growth of 91% over 447 in SY 2011-12.
- The report breaks down the percentage of enrollments by district. The Alpine District contributed 11.4% of enrollments, however, the significant majority of districts are sending a very small number of students to the SOEP.
- Almost half of the courses taken were core courses.
- Included in the report is a comparison of the average cost per credit hour of an online course ($582) versus a face-to-face course ($798), generating an average savings of $216 per course.
In regard to the cost comparison, it is important to note that there is a significant cost difference between offering a single, supplemental online course to a student, and offering a full courseload along with a suite of services to support those students, as a full-time school does – whether online or face-to-face.
This is the second year of Utah’s course choice program, and while enrollments are growing, they still appear to be small compared to the state high school population. Of course it is difficult to figure out why something is not happening:
- Is it because students aren’t interested in online courses? This seems unlikely because examples in other states (Florida, state virtual schools in North Carolina, Alabama, Michigan and others) have proven that demand will rise to meet the supply.
- Are students taking online courses through their own districts and not through the SOEP? There is legislation pending that would require all online enrollments to be reported to the state, even if they are in-district, which would answer this question.
- Do students not know that they have online course options available to them? Or, do they know about them but they are being discouraged from taking online courses? Although student choice is dictated in legislation, there are thousands of conversations happening in counselor’s offices all over the state of Utah each year and it is impossible to know the content and tenor of these conversations.