For Small, Private Liberal Arts Colleges, What’s the Drive to Go Online?

EdSurge | April 24, 2018 - When financials are steady and a college doesn’t have a desire to expand its reach beyond a physical campus, is online learning necessary—or even relevant?

That was a question posed last week by Janet Russell, director of academic technology for Carleton College, at a session at the Online Learning Consortium’s Innovate conference.

“We are investigating online learning, but it still makes us a little bit nervous,” Russell said to a group of about 30 academic-innovation officials. Many who were in the room work at small liberal arts colleges that are grappling with similar questions around whether or not to pursue online learning—and, if so, how to get campus buy-in.

Located in Minnesota, Carleton College serves about 2,000 students, the majority of which are white and hail from the Midwest and New England. “We are trying to do what many institutions are trying to do, get a more-diverse student population,” said Russell. Digital learning is one way Russell is interested in serving a more inclusive group of students.

So far, the school has only offered one online course, a summer bridge program called CUBE (Carleton Undergraduate Bridge Experience) focusing on quantitative skills. CUBE was met with positive feedback, Russell said, and received permission to run again this past summer in 2017. But the course is “a significant departure from college policies and practices, including having no summer courses and no online courses,” she said.