Dissolving the Divides Generated by the Growing Number of Stakeholders in the Lucrative Arena of Online Education

Concurrent Session 5

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Key stakeholders in online education have expanded potentially creating new divides in the complex interrelationships between these actors.

Archivist Notes


Dr. Meine holds the academic rank of professor, is a member of the TROY Public Administration graduate faculty and the recipient of the Troy University 2011 Wallace D. Malone Distinguished Faculty Award. He has served TROY for over 20 years in a number of roles including Academic Director of TROY's Atlantic Region; Department Chair for TROY's Master of Public Administration program and eight years as the Regional Director of TROY's former Florida and Western Regions which included teaching sites in eight states and served over 4000 students in multiple undergraduate and graduate programs. In that position he also led the dramatic expansion of TROY's online offerings before resigning in 2007 to return to full time teaching.

Extended Abstract


Presenter Credentials: For more than 15 years we have been heavily involved in online education, not only as instructors (Fred at the graduate level in Public Administration and Tom at the undergraduate level in Sociology) but also as senior-level administrators with oversight for online courses and programs at Troy University.  As examples of our work, Fred, a long standing member of Sloan/OLC, managed TROY’s early Internet-based distance learning efforts, to include growing annual online enrollments from fewer than 200 to more than 17,000 in the space of just five years, and Tom having had supervisory responsibilities for TROY’s online initiatives while serving as the academic dean for University College (now Global Campus). 

 Session Overview: The Inherent Complexity of Multiple Stakeholders: Since its inception as the ill-defined “classroom of the future,” the initial group of stakeholders in online education (faculty, IT staff, students, administrators and, perhaps surprisingly to some, the U. S. Military) has risen significantly. Of particular interest has been the addition of course designers and most recently, “enablers” to the already complex, and not infrequently problematic interrelationships between the already firmly-entrenched stakeholders.

 Following a brief presentation of each of the contemporary stakeholders and some examples of at least partial solutions to the interactive complications (e.g., the importance of an integrated administrative approach linking all stakeholders and a consistent approach within each of the stakeholder groups) and in keeping with the parameters for “Conversations that Work” we will facilitate what we anticipate will be a productive and spirited discussion. The ensuing exchange should allow session attendees to include their contributions regarding not only the issues and concerns highlighted in the presentation; but, hopefully, new insights as to potential solutions to what could become an increasingly significant problem for the future of online education. 

The U.S. Military: Although its initial financial involvement with online education via such high-profile programs  as the Navy’s “Sweet Sixteen” and  the Army’s massive, $700,000,000 commitment to eArmyU (now GoArmyEd) had a profound impact on the credibility and ultimate proliferation of Internet-based learning in colleges and universities, its increasing demands on educational institutions (to include an emphasis on expediency of delivery, low cost, maximum experiential credit, etc.) and even recently instituting sanctions against one of the most prominent purveyors of online education to both military and civilian personnel may well be seen as somewhat heavy handed. 

Faculty: Faculty reluctance continues to be among the most contentious and crucial challenges faced by the colleges and universities who succumbed to the increasing pressure to join the online market.  The reluctance of many faculty (especially senior faculty) to accept online delivery as a credible, much less a viable, academic approach may have yet to be fully resolved, included unrelenting concerns about the potential intrusions on academic freedom and its derivative, faculty autonomy because of the very specialized oversight processes and course design efforts. 

Students: While historically having been a sufficiently distinct minority in traditional university classrooms as to have earned the designation of “non-traditional” students, the dominant number of adult learners in online courses have led to their increasing recognition as having become the “traditional” students in Internet-based instruction. However, growing speculation as to the primary reasons for the online enrollment slow-down is increasingly focused on  such disconcerting  possibilities as 1) increasing  disenchantment among adult learners with the academic and pragmatic realities of obtaining even an Associate Degree, much less a Bachelors or Masters Degree online and 2) the possible saturation of the online adult learner marketplace, in part due to the intense competition among colleges and universities for a market share of the adult learner demographic. 

Administrators: In addition to dealing with the seemingly endless academic concerns surrounding the growth of distance learning, administrators have concurrently been confronted with questions regarding financial viability, as well as accreditation imperatives. As the increasingly competitive education environment began to negatively impact the growth of academic programs at many institutions, the search for new marketing strategies focusing on student enrollments and retention intensified. The pressure to ensure comparable quality of all courses, regardless of delivery format, in order to satisfy regional and specialized accreditation criteria and oversight from funding sources resulted in increasing scrutiny of online courses, and led to extensive pressure to standardize course content and formats, especially among universities that utilize large numbers of adjunct faculty to teach online courses.  The online delivery format also raised concerns about faculty compensation, class sizes and overhead costs. 

Course Designers and IT Staff: Because the initial online courses tended to feature written exchanges between students and with their instructors (not unlike the increasingly devalued correspondence course concept) a “cottage industry” focusing on course design soon evolved, to include proactive efforts to “spruce up” courses through audio-visual bells and whistles, with even live interaction being strongly encouraged and rapidly expanding despite its potentially negative impact on the asynchronous approach. While some of the input from course designers clearly has merit, and appears to be welcomed by increasing numbers of faculty, the overt notion that faculty need outside involvement to improve their courses has yet to attain universal acceptance.

Enablers: The successful marketing and delivery of higher education to potential students, especially adult learners, regardless of their physical location, is critical for enrollment growth or to prevent decline in enrollments, and can be especially lucrative by attracting large numbers of students paying higher out-of-state fees. The importance of that has been recently highlighted when reports surfaced that the University of Florida was terminating or at least renegotiating the contract with their “enabler” the Pearson Corporation for failure to attract sufficient out of state students into the University of Florida Online.