Online courses accommodate high enrollment
As enrollment numbers increase steadily year after year, the University is turning to online courses to continue providing a quality education while dealing with a budget crisis.
Philip J. Furmanski, executive vice president for Academic Affairs, said online courses provide major benefits to students — reaching out to those unable to come on campus and expanding the dimensions of a classroom.
"If you only have a classroom that can hold 30 people, you can get the same class online and get 40 people," he said. "That is one of the virtues of online courses, and allows us in effect to increase our enrollments without putting more stress on our physical facilities."
But the point of an online course is not to generate revenue for the University, Furmanski said. Rather, it provides students with an online-learning experience to enhance life-long skills.
"I think what is going to be increasingly important is the ability to continue to be educated online," he said. "I think therefore it is very valuable for all of our students to get experience with online courses."
Furmanski said there is a misconception of online courses as easier than face-to-face courses, but if an online course is well done, it can be rigorous and just as educationally valid as a course in a classroom setting.
"This doesn't just mean sitting in your pajamas and watching a video of somebody giving a lecture," he said. "They actually learn at least as much as the students who take the conventional course with lectures and seminars."
School of Arts and Sciences senior Neepa Rana said although she never took an online course, her roommate completed an expository writing hybrid course at the same time she took the class in a conventional setting.
"We both got the same grade and we both had the same writing style," she said. "[But] she could work on it when she wanted and could submit online and be over with it. It was more convenient for her."
This convenience factor is one of the key benefits for online courses, which Director of Special Projects for Academic Affairs Richard Novak said is a major reason for its popularity at the University.
"At Rutgers we know that more and more students are working. They are trying to juggle very busy work schedules and school schedules," he said. "Online learning provides a convenience factor that helps them with their very busy lives."
Online courses also provide accessibility for many non-traditional adult students who are unable to come on campus — a population Novak said is a major commitment for the University.
"We probably have more non-traditional adult students in our off-campus locations and in our online courses than we have on campus," he said. "It makes it easier, more convenient and more accessible for these students."
To prove the increasing popularity of online courses at the University, Novak said there were 3,200 students in online courses in fall of 2009 and 4,435 this semester.
"The number of online courses offered and the number of students who are taking online courses have increased dramatically over the last few years," he said. "We have pretty much been seeing double-digit increases each year."
Director of Scheduling and Space Management Arun Mukherjee confirmed a steady increase of online courses and said it is rapidly growing, especially in recent years.
"I see most of the increase coming in the last two years, starting in fall of 2008 in online courses," he said. "There was really only a handful before that."
Mukherjee added another reason for increased enrollment was because of the expanding number of classes and departments going online, but he was unsure if it connected to the budget situation.
"It certainly helps in terms of scheduling that we don't have to look for a classroom," he said. "So the more courses online help our classroom situation."
Novak acknowledged online courses have become attractive during a time when the University is struggling with unfavorable budget cuts.
"They have provided another opportunity for the University to serve additional students and to serve additional special populations, like non-traditional adult students," he said. "That certainly helps in terms of generating revenue for the University."
But as Furmanski noted, the purpose of online courses are not to generate extra revenue but to provide students with educational benefits while keeping the University as a competitor in higher education, Novak said.
"Of our peer institutions, over 90 percent are doing exactly the same thing," he said. "So for Rutgers to be perceived as competitive in the higher education landscape, we need to be in the game just like all the other institutions."
Novak repeated that a well-constructed online course could be rigorous, with many faculty and students noting it is more work when compared to a conventional course.
"Even though it is more work, faculty and students also report that it is a very rich experience," he said. "It's just the realization that it is not just a quick and easy way to get college credit."
School of Engineering senior Sean Quinn said after enrolling in an online class for the first time this semester, the only reason he would take another one is because they seem much easier than a face-to-face class.
Quinn said the reason he finds the class easy is not because the material is simple, but he is able to get around certain requirements, speaking of a time-log feature where an instructor can see how long a student reads posted material.
"I basically just have to sit at an computer, open a reading document and leave it open for about 30 minutes, scroll down and click on a link," he said.
Although he finds online classes to be helpful for off-campus students, the concept of academic integrity is severely hindered.
"It is the question of how many people are actually learning and how many people are just printing out the pages and leaving the browser open so it looks like they are reading," he said. "[This system] is completely reasonable, but I think it could be implemented better."