Online Learning & Centralization of Commuity College Systems

Workforce development training is an important part of the mission of community colleges.  Increasingly, students need and expect online courses to be an option for some or all of their programs.  I conducted a study looking at why some community and technical colleges offer more online programs than others. 

One part of the Online Workforce Development Project that I lead sought to understand the reasons behind these variances.  In this posting, I discuss statewide organizational structures and their relationship to the offering of online occupational programs.  The study was based on a random sample of 321 institutions in the United States.

An important finding is that community and technical colleges operating under a statewide college governance have more occupational programs than other types of institutions.   The same is true for those colleges with more highly centralized statewide practices. This is in contrast to states with looser collections of community colleges.

One reason for this difference is that colleges with statewide governance systems have created administrative mechanisms that provide for sharing of online courses across the state, which increased the number of “online programs” in those states.  In other words, in these states, they were able to pool the resources of the entire state in offering online programs collaboratively.  They were also able to provide other community colleges’ online programs from within their own college, in some cases.

However, many of the individual colleges offering the most online programs per 10,000 students were in states with decentralized governance.  This finding implies that decentralization can allow for pocketed innovation and experimentation, which is important to consider.  However, on the whole, there appears to be something about highly centralized systems that effectively encourages more online program development…this may be creative course sharing I mentioned above, incentives for creating cohesive sets of online programs (as opposed to scattered online courses), or through mandates from the central office.

I recently published an article on this research with Timothy Sauer, Fashaad Crawford, Denise Cumberland, and Kristin Wilson in Community College Review. The full paper is available by clicking here.

Also, please see my earlier post about the number and types of online programs offered and the connection of those programs to actual workforce needs.

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