We go low…
Someone should give Ed Gillespie a Confederate monument as a participation trophy for finishing second in the Governors’ race.
— Tony Posnanski (@tonyposnanski) November 8, 2017
Tonight was an enormous victory for an inclusive Virginia — congrats to Gov-elect @RalphNortham and the people of Virginia for rejecting the politics of hate and embracing opportunity for all
— Tom Perriello (@tomperriello) November 8, 2017
Well done tonight, people of Virginia.
About 6 weeks ago, I wrote about efforts underway to advance online/distance education across the Commonwealth of Virginia. Since then, I’ve talked to some folks involved, attended a hearing in the General Assembly, and received updates from folks “in the loop.” The tl;dr version of what has happened since that last post is that we now have a state-supported initiative aimed, at least for now, at degree completion via distance education. The Online Virginia Network (OVN) is now a thing, and, for now, is mostly a collaboration between Old Dominion University and George Mason University to advance a degree completion agenda by streamlining the process for enrolling in an online program at one of the two institutions. Their new website, which I think is pretty slick and simple to navigate, is mostly just a portal to information about programs offered at the two universities. The OVN1 also has new oversight in the form of a board that’s loaded with state legislators. How the OVN grows in the future feels undetermined to me, but maybe that’s OK. We’ll see…
[UPDATE: I was properly informed that the OVN isn’t really officially a new thing, yet. House Bill 2262 breezed through the House of Delegates and the Senate, but has not yet been signed by Governor McAuliffe. So, what exists now (particularly the website) lives, at least budgetarily, under the auspices of the original Virginia Degree Completion Network. My guess is that the Governor signs the bill, though maybe with some small amendments.]
At the hearing at the General Assembly about the OVN that I attended, the only speakers were representatives from ODU and GMU. The legislative committee asked them a few questions, and throughout the short hearing, there were some numbers thrown around about “the market” for the OVN. One person said that there are 1.1 million Virginia residents with some college credits and no degree; another person said the number is more like 600,000. SCHEV’s Tod Massa, wrote about this last summer and estimates 648,000 such residents, and even breaks it down by how many credits they actually have. However we slice it, there are LOTS of Virginia residents with some college credits but no degree.
Related, as part of my “reassignment” this semester, I’ve been doing some research about the distance education landscape in Virginia. I’ve been asked to gather data and produce some information about VCU’s standing relative to other institutions. My starting point has been IPEDS data which yielded the following charts.
There’s some interesting information in those charts2, most of which I already knew. For example, at the undergraduate level, the Virginia Community College System is the dominant player. And, particularly among the 4-year publics, ODU is the big kahuna. Looking at the data also reminded me that Virginia, as a whole, is not considered a big distance education state. In fact, according to the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), Virginia’s percentage of instruction by e-learning is ranked 15th out of 16 SREB states.
So, if by the logic of the OVN, there is such a big “market” of people with some college credit but no college degree, why such a small percentage of instruction offered through distance education? And, if that’s the case, maybe Virginia is ripe for the plucking by outside providers?
For that last question, we now have some data. As part of the national State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA), participating institutions have to report the number of distance education students served from outside their home state. And, the fine folks at NC-SARA have made those data publicly available. Somewhat to my surprise, those data show almost 35,000 Virginia residents involved in distance education at out-of-state institutions. We don’t know the extent to which they’re enrolled (single courses? A whole program?) or at what level (undergraduate? graduate?), but we can see which out-of-state institutions are enrolling the most Virginia residents. The table below only lists the top 7 states in which institutions serving Virginia residents are domiciled, and the top 3 institutions within those states.
|VIRGINIA RESIDENTS ENROLLED IN OUT-OF-STATE DISTANCE EDUCATION|
|WV||8899||American Public University System (8588) (for-profit)|
|West Virginia University (108)|
|University of Charleston (71)|
|AZ||8788||University of Phoenix (5718) (for-profit)|
|Penn Foster College (1480) (for-profit)|
|Grand Canyon University (1127) (for-profit)|
|MN||3944||Walden University (2282) (for-profit)|
|Capella University (1519) (for-profit)|
|Rasmussen College (58) (for-profit)|
|CO||1985||Colorado Technical University (695) (for-profit)|
|College for Financial Planning (295) (for-profit)|
|American Sentinel University – Aurora (257) (for-profit)|
|NH||1625||Southern New Hampshire University (1625) (for-profit)|
|IA||1575||Kaplan University (1575) (for-profit)|
|AL||1508||Columbia Southern University (1073) (for-profit)|
|Troy University (197)|
|The University of Alabama (80)|
Notice anything? It’s almost all for-profit institutions domiciled outside of Virginia, to the tune of probably close to 30,000 of the 35,ooo Virginia residents involved in distance education. For sure, many of these students are military personnel, as we have some big military bases and I’ve seen firsthand how aggressively the for-profit providers recruit military personnel to their programs. But, is this a big “market”; is this a lot of potential in-state tuition money lost to out-of-state (mostly for-profit) providers?
Well, I looked at SARA states closest in size to Virginia. First, I looked at Washington, a state slightly less populous than Virginia. According to the NC-SARA data, just over 20,000 students are enrolled in distance education offered by out-of-state providers. Proportionally, that’s a bit lower than Virginia. I also looked at Georgia, a slightly more populous state than Virginia. Almost 58,000 Georgia residents are enrolled in distance education offered by out-of-state providers. Proportionally, that’s a bit more than Virginia. These are back-of-the-napkin calculations, but I’m guessing that, ultimately, Virginia is about typical in this realm. Tens of thousands of our residents are enrolling in distance education at out-of-state, mostly for-profit institutions.
Are we making up for that lost tuition by enrolling out-of-state students in our online courses and programs? Well, according to the NC-SARA data, the answer is not really. There are 58,917 out-of-state students being served by Virginia institutions. However, the vast majority of those are students attending Liberty and/or other private institutions. In fact, by my calculations, 1,187 out-of-state students are enrolled in some form of distance education through a public institution in Virginia.
What does this all mean? Very roughly, for every 1 student who pays out-of-state tuition via distance education to a public institution in Virginia, we lose 35 students to out-of-state (mostly for-profit) providers.
This doesn’t include Virginia residents enrolled at institutions in non-SARA states at the time SARA conducted this first round of data collection. North Carolina, our neighbor to the south, wasn’t in SARA at the time and I’m certain some of our residents are enrolled through UNC Online. Furthermore, this doesn’t include the number of Virginia residents getting a degree from Liberty University via distance education. I can’t immediately find how many in-state students they have, but their own website says their online enrollment exceeds 94,0003. I have to figure that includes tens of thousands of Virginia residents. Ultimately, though, the 1:35 ratio above is probably a conservative estimate.
So, back to the Online Virginia Network… if my rough calculations are correct, as a state, we’d do well to figure out ways to serve our residents better. We’re not going to keep every student in state or enrolled at one of our public institutions, but I’m certain we can recoup some of the tuition lost to out-of-state and/or private providers. And, this is where I think and hope the Online Virginia Network (OVN) can come into play.
This all, of course, doesn’t get into issues of quality. I can’t speak to the quality of online courses and programs at Liberty. I have heard some unconfirmed rumors about their criteria for hiring instructors and they worry me. And, frankly, as much as I have my suspicions, I don’t *really* know about the quality of online courses and programs offered by the for-profit providers. Tressie McMillan Cottom’s new book, LowerEd, is a brilliant, insightful look at the practices within the for-profit education industry. Tressie’s book is more about practice and policy (and sociology) than it is about educational quality, but she does report on the less-than-stellar outcomes for students served by these providers. These outcomes include high dropout rates and poor job-placement rates while students have taken on massive amounts of debt. That’s not what we want for citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia. So, I also hope that the Online Virginia Network is truly attentive to issues of quality. I’ve written about the rules of engagement for online learning and the thicket of guidelines and regulations that bound the world of distance education. Despite those guidelines and regulations, we know that crappy online courses and programs abound. Thus, my dearest hope is that the Online Virginia Network (OVN) is truly attentive to issues of educational quality and not just a mechanism for funneling citizens into programs of limited quality and poor outcomes.
There is a significant amount of legislative and policy activity here in Virginia to try to centralize, to varying degrees, post-secondary online learning. That’s a bit of an oversimplification, so let me offer some history and context as I know it1.
In the 2015 legislative session, House Bill 1400 (Chapter 665), added/included the following language to Title 23, Chapter 9.1, of the Code of Virginia:
G. In consultation with other institutions, George Mason University shall develop a plan for a comprehensive on-line course offering in Virginia. As part of the plan, George Mason University shall (1) research similar programs in other states; (2) evaluate the need for adult completion programs; (3) identify the academic programs to be included; (4) develop an appropriate scheduling model; and (5) recommend an appropriate pricing model. George Mason University shall submit the plan to the Governor and the Chairmen of the House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees by September 1, 2015.
Sure enough, in September 2015, in partnership with Old Dominion University, a report was issued and the concept of the Virginia Degree Completion Network was birthed. It’s not a terribly comprehensive or detailed report, but it included a purpose for the Network:
requirements for implementation
and a timeline.
My contacts and “insider” sources say the Network plan didn’t exactly take off and there was much foot dragging. Furthermore, by my account, at this point, there’s no way that timeline could be achieved.
Well, the month after the report about the Network was issued, and while feet were dragging around the Virginia Degree Completion Network, Virginia Statute §23.1-909, was enacted (thus codifying House Bill 2320) and it stated that:
The Secretary of Education and the director of the Council [SCHEV], in consultation with each public institution of higher education and nonprofit private institution of higher education, shall develop a plan to establish and advertise a cooperative degree program whereby any undergraduate student enrolled at any public institution of higher education or nonprofit private institution of higher education may complete, through the use of online courses at any such institution, the course credit requirements to receive a degree at a tuition cost not to exceed $4,000, or the lowest cost that is achievable, per academic year.
This “$4,000 per year cooperative online degree” idea got considerable attention around the state, and those of us involved in online learning in higher education across the Commonwealth were eager to see the report that was due on October 1, 2016. I don’t know how much consultation there was with institutions of higher education, but I do know that some of us were offered an opportunity to comment via a listserv maintained for the Networked Learning Collaborative of Virginia (NLCVA). Well, sure enough, dutifully, Secretary of Education for the Commonwealth of Virginia Dietra Trent and SCHEV Director Peter Blake submitted the legislatively required progress report on October 1, 2016. The comments from NLCVA members are included in that report as Appendix D. I can neither confirm nor deny that I am the first commenter.
The tl;dr version of the good report authored by Trent and Blake is “This cooperative degree idea is a good idea, but it’s complicated. Also, there is already this idea for the Virginia Degree Completion Network, so let’s combine those efforts into something called the Online Virginia Network (OVN). And, let’s be planful about this…oh, and $4,000 per year is not realistic…But, again, good idea!” Well, that’s my interpretation; you’re free to read the report and offer your own interpretation.
I do like that the report relies heavily on State U. Online, a report done by Rachel Fishman of the New America Foundation. That report has been influential in my thinking around these matters and I referenced it in my comments through NLCVA to SCHEV. I don’t know if I introduced SCHEV to the report via my comments, but I like to imagine I did 🙂
So, that’s where we were as of October 1, 2016. Fast forward to last week, January 11, 2017, and here comes House Bill 2262 which would establish The Online Virginia Network Authority (the Authority). Essentially and effectively, the bill would enact the recommendations of the report from Trent and Blake.
§ 23.1-3134. Online Virginia Network Authority established; purpose; governing board; staff support.
The Online Virginia Network Authority (the Authority) is established as an educational institution in the Commonwealth for the purpose of providing a means for individuals to earn competency-based degrees and credentials by improving the quality of and expanding access to online degree and credential programs that are beneficial to citizens, institutions of higher education, and employers in the Commonwealth.
§ 23.1-3135. Scope; duties; funding.
A. Each public institution of higher education and each consortium of public institutions of higher education that offers online courses, online degree programs, or online credential programs shall offer any such course, degree program, or credential program through the Authority.
B. The Authority shall:
1. Act as the coordinating and administering entity for the delivery of each online course, degree program, and credential program identified in subsection A;
So, that’s kind of a big deal. There are additional parameters in the Bill, but you can read through those yourself. I have lots of random thoughts about these developments, so, in no particular order, here they are:
So, I don’t know that we’ll get Virginia Online U (per the title of the post which is a nod to the aforementioned New America Foundation report I like so much), but we may very well get The Online Virginia Network Authority (the Authority). I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts on this in the coming days, weeks and months and I hope I can share those as I can.