Friday, August 31, 2012

The Best HBCUs for Online Degrees in 2012

Note: The 2013 update for this post is in process
A. Context
The Babson Survey Group recently reported that a majority of the faculty polled in a national survey regarded online education with "more fear than excitement" -- a sentiment based on their assessment that online programs for non-traditional students were not as good as face-to-face programs for traditional students. (See “Conflicted: Faculty and Online Education, 2012”)

The nation's most selective, top tier colleges and universities don't offer online degrees.  Is this aversion sustained a couple of levels down, among the best of the less elite institutions that educate 95 percent of our nation's students? Given that I am most concerned about the black students within that 95 percent, my focus is on the colleges and universities that educate the lion's share of  nation's black students. Although nearly 90 percent of black students attend non-HBCUs nowadays, HBCUs remain at the core of black higher education. Therefore my specific concerns lead me to ask the following specific question: Are high performing HBCUs committed to offering online degree programs for non-traditional students?

Note: Non-traditional students have jobs and/or family obligations that prevent them from pursuing their studies on a full-time basis by taking classes during weekdays; they can only take classes in the evenings, on weekends, or via some form of distance learning. Non-traditional are usually older than most traditional college students.

According to the findings of the DLL's most recent report -- "HBCU Online & Blended Degree Programs -- 2012" -- together with other relevant information in the DLL's databases, it's clear that the answer to my question is a resounding "Yes!!!" High performing HBCUs have become so involved in online degree programs for non-traditional students that it now makes sense to ask, "Which HBCUs are the best HBCUs for online degrees in 2012?" This note should therefore be regarded as the final section of the DLL's report, having been written by the same author and based on the same data. And as with the DLL report, wherever the term "online" is used in this note, it should be understood as convenient shorthand for the longer designation "online and highly blended"
  • Caveat #1 -- This note measures the performance of HBCUs by their 6-year graduation rates. Yes, graduation rates have well-documented deficiencies, but this assessment will merely use these rates to identify high performing HBCUs, i.e., those whose 6-year graduation rates are equal to or greater than 40 percent;  graduation rates will not be used to compare the performance of the members of this group against each other.
     
  • Caveat #2 -- A more substantial flaw in my assessment derives from the paucity of data about  online degree programs. What I am really interested in and what I assume most readers are really interested in is the quality of the HBCUs' online degree programs, not the quality of their traditional programs. Graduation rates are one of many metrics that can be used to assess the quality of an institution's traditional programs.

    Unfortunately, extensive data about online programs isn't available yet. Indeed, HBCUs -- like the vast majority of non-profit institutions -- don't publish separate statistics about the prior academic background of the non-traditional students who enter their online programs; the number who applied, were accepted, and actually enrolled; their retention rates and graduation rates; student evaluations; students' accumulated debt upon graduation, gainful employment after graduation, etc., etc., etc. So I have tried to identify the HBCUs whose online programs are likely to be the best programs based on the HBCU's prior record and on the range of online degree opportunities they currently provide.

    In other words, I am trusting that when HBCUs with the best performance records with regards to face-to-face programs for their traditional students offer extensive arrays of online programs for non-traditional students, they will not risk their hard earned reputations and will therefore make every effort to ensure that their online programs measure up to the standards of excellence set by their face-to-face programs.

B. High Performing HBCUs
Table 1 (below) lists the 21 HBCUs whose 6-year graduation rates were greater than or equal to 40 percent in the Fall 2011. It identifies their public/private status and indicates whether they offered online degree programs in June 2012. It divides these high performing HBCUs into two groups: a top tier whose graduation rates exceeded 50 percent, and second tier whose graduation rates ranged between 40 percent and 50 percent.

Table 1. Graduation Rates of High Performing HBCUs
HBCUs
6-Year
Grad Rate
Public
Private
Online
First Tier




Virginia University of Lynchburg (VA)
100%

x
X
Spelman College (GA)
77%

x

Howard University (DC)
63%

x
X
Morehouse College (GA)
55%

x

Hampton University (VA)
55%

x
X
Xavier University of Louisiana (LA)
55%

x






Second Tier




Tougaloo College (MS)
48%

x
X
Fisk University (TN)
45%

x

Elizabeth City State University (NC)
44%
x


Tuskegee University (AL)
43%

x

Florida Memorial University (FL)
42%

x

Albany State University (GA)
41%
x

X
Bowie State University (MD)
41%
x


North Carolina A&T State University (NC)
41%
x

X
Winston-Salem State University (NC)
41%
x

X
Clark Atlanta University (GA)
41%

x

Florida A&M University (FL)
40%
x

X
Jackson State University (MS)
40%
x

X
Lincoln University, PA (PA)
40%
x


Virginia State University (VA)
40%
x


Claflin University (SC)
40%

x






Total

9
12
9
  Source: Fall 2011 6-year graduation rates from U.S. Dept. of Education's IPEDS College Navigator Website

The data in Table 1 demonstrates the substantial commitment of high performing HBCUs to online programs:
  • Almost half of the 21 high performing HBCUs offered online programs
     
  • All six of the HBCUs in the top tier were private institutions
    --  The HBCU with the highest graduation rate, a perfect 100 percent, offers online degree programs ... Virginia University of Lynchburg
    -- Half of the six HBCUs in the top tier offer online degree programs ... Virginia University of Lynchburg, Howard University, and Hampton University
     
  • 9 of the 15 HBCUs in the second tier were public institutions
    -- More than half, 5 out of 9, offered online degree programs ... Albany State University, North Carolina A&T State University, Winston-Salem State University, Florida A&M University, and Jackson State University

C. Online Programs
The HBCUs listed in Table 1 (above) that offered online programs appear again in Table 2 (below), this time with their online Associates, Bachelors, Masters, and Doctoral programs. The HBCUs are listed in the order of the total number of online programs they offered as of June 2012, from largest to smallest. The names of the HBCUs in the left-most column are hyperlinked to the pages on their Websites that provide full descriptions of their programs.

Table 2. Online Degree Programs Offered by High Performing HBCUs in 2012
HBCUs/Links to
Online Programs
Type
Associates
Bachelors
Masters
Doctoral
Count
4-Year Private
General Studies, Business Management, Aviation Management
Criminal Justice, Business Management, General Studies, Paralegal Studies, Nursing, Religious Studies, Systems Organization and Management, Systems Organization and Management (Human Resource Management), Aviation Management (Airport Administration)
Nursing, Education in Curriculum and Instruction
Business Administration, Educational Management, Nursing
17
4-Year Private
Liberal Arts and Sciences
Religious Studies, Business Administration, Organizational, Management Sociology, Sociology (concentration in Criminology)
Organizational Management, Divinity

8
4-Year Public

Agricultural Education, Business Education, Electronics Technology, Occupational Safety & Health
Agricultural Education, Information Technology, Instructional Technology
Technology Management
8
4-Year Public

Clinical Laboratory Science, Interdisciplinary Studies (Integrative Studies), Birth to Kindergarten Education, RN-BSN
Rehabilitation Counseling, Elementary Education

6
4-Year Private

Clinical Laboratory Science, RN to BSN
Executive MBA
Pharm.D
4
4-Year Public


MSN, Public Health (MPH), MBA

3
4-Year Public

Education
MBA, Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT)

3
4-Year Private


Economics (Business Online)

1
4-Year Public


Criminal Justice

1
  Source: The Digital Learning Lab's report, "HBCU Online & Blended Degree Programs -- 2012"


D. The Top Three

The three HBCUs regarded by the author as being the best providers of online degree programs are listed in the following table

Table 3. The Best HBCUs for Online Degrees in 2012
HBCs
Type
Associate
Bachelors
Masters
Doctoral
Count
6-year Graduation Rates
4-Year Private
3
9
2
3
17
55%
4-Year Private
1
5
2

8
100%
4-Year Public

4
3
1
8
41%

Although the order in Table 3 is the same as the total number of online degree programs that the HBCUs offered, the following comments will explain how the final order might have been different because other factors were also taken into consideration.
  • Hampton University not only offered the largest number of degree programs overall, it also led in each degree category.
     
  • All colleges and universities have general education requirements, courses that all students must take outside of their major fields that "complete" their intellectual development, courses that define what it means to be a graduate of each institution. These required courses and elective menus are usually taken during a student's first two years.

    As per Table 1, Hampton University and Virginia University of Lynchburg were the only HBCUs that offered online Associates degrees.  Other HBCUs merely noted that their undergraduate degrees required two years of prior study and/or an Associates degree as entrance requirements, but they did not guarantee that the other online courses that they offered would provide non-traditional students with sufficient opportunities to satisfy these  requirements.

    As noted in Table 1, Hampton University offered three Associates degrees, two of which were broad enough to support a non-traditional student's interest in a broad range of major fields; the University of Virginia offered one Associates degree; and North Carolina A&T provided no online Associates program.
     
  • Given that online degree programs are mainly for non-traditional students, Hampton University's preeminence with regards to online programs within the HBCU community will come as no surprise to anyone who has been aware of its long-standing and extensive commitment to providing higher education opportunities for non-traditional students in both face-to-face and online formats.

    -- Hampton was one of 30+ partners eArmyU, as were two other HBCUs, Grambling State and North Carolina A&T. eArmyU, an ill-conceived initiative by the U.S. Department of the Army to provide opportunities for its soldiers and and their families to obtain online degrees, was established during the early years of the George W. Bush Administration and is currently inactive.

    --Hampton's College of Education and Continuing Studes (CECS) administers Hampton U Online; it also offers face-to-face degree programs on two campuses ... 2 Associates, 14 Bachelors, and 4 Masters degrees.
      
  • Accordingly, I salute Hampton as this year's "Number 1 Online HBCU" ... and just this once, I will concede that where online education is concerned, Hampton is the real "HU" ... for now ... ;-)
     
  • As for North Carolina A&T's third place showing in this assessment, I won't be surprised if it moves up to second or first place at some time in the near future.  North Carolina is clearly this year's "Number 1 Online HBCU State."  As noted in the DLL 2012 report, four of North Carolina's five public HBCUs offer an extensive array of online degree programs ... North Carolina A&T State University, Winston-Salem State University, Fayetteville State University, and North Carolina Central University. No other state comes anywhere near to NC's combined online HBCU offerings ... OK, full disclosure ==> my mother was born and raised in North Carolina ... :-)

E. Future Challenges for High Performing HBCUs
Looking forward, the high performing HBCUs cannot rest on the laurels celebrated in this note.
  • More high performing HBCUs should develop more online and highly blended degree programs for non-traditional students. The strategy of "flipping the classroom" provides a straight-forward path from traditional face-to-face courses to highly blended and/or fully online courses that could be offered to non-traditional students.
     
  • More high performing HBCUs should consider partnership arrangements with other HBCUs to jointly develop the courses required for more online/blended programs
     
  • More high performing HBCUs should consider forming strategic partnerships with online service providers to develop more online/blended programs
     
  • High performing HBCUs should ignore the hype about MOOCs, i.e, massive open online courses, that has filled the media in the last year and not lose sight of the underlying fact that MOOCs really are powerful, disruptive innovations that offer two extraordinary opportunities to revolutionize the education of black Americans and of people of color throughout the African Diaspora:

    -- MOOCs could enable high performing HBCUs to offer individual courses to a global academic market. Their students could combine courses from HBCUs with courses from other colleges and universities to obtain degrees and certificates by obtaining credit from institutions that provided competency-based programs. At the present time, it's not clear how profitable MOOCs can become, but it seems likely that they will at least become self-sustaining, i.e., able to cover the costs of their development.

    -- MOOCS offer unprecedented platforms for researchers to discover how different kinds of students really learn, and then to use this knowledge to develop better teaching techniques that will make all courses more effective, including the traditional face-to-face/low blend classes taught to full-time students on campus. In their announcement of their edX partnership to produce MOOCs, the presidents of Harvard University and M.I.T. took great pains to underscore these potential benefits for their full-time programs.

    Needless to say, the student bodies at Harvard and M.I.T. don't look very much like the student bodies at most HBCUs nor at most of the other colleges and universities that educate 95 percent of the nation's black students. So if high performing HBCUs don't participate in this ground-breaking MOOC research, it will be all the less likely that the innovative teaching insights that emerge will be especially beneficial to black students.
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