Recommended Reading: IHE coverage of NBER paper and critiques

For those following my two recent posts about the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) working paper claiming to analyze “The Returns to Online Postsecondary Education”, there are two articles I recommend for broader coverage – both from Inside Higher Ed. The first article is “Online Ed’s Return on Investment”, where Carl Straumsheim summarized the report itself as well as early critiques from me, Russ Poulin from WCET, and Jeff Seaman from Babson Survey Research Group.

“Even a quick check with one of the databases they did use … would show they are off on their counts and should have made them rethink their assumptions,” Poulin said in an email.

Jeff Seaman, co-director of the Babson Survey Research Group, called the methodology “seriously flawed.” The Babson Group previously produced annual reports on the size of the online education market but began to focus more on in-depth surveys after the federal government began collecting and reporting online enrollment data.

The second article, titled “Impressions of the Hoxby Study of Online Learning”, came out today where Doug Lederman asked for impressions from a dozen higher ed observers. Most observers were critical of the data issues as we have noted at e-Literate, but there were a few with positive reactions. I think that Deb Adair (from Quality Matters) has an excellent response, concluding with the following [emphasis added]: Continue reading

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One More Thing on NBER Report: Where did pre-2011 data come from?

Earlier today I critiqued the new National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) report on the “The Returns to Online Postsecondary Education”, calling it “a hot mess that that conflates online students, enrollments, programs, institutions and uses a bizarre and misleading data set for its analysis”. That post looked mostly at the interpretation of Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) data to define which institutions were exclusively online or substantially online based on the author’s definition. But this report has a bigger flaw that I initially missed – it shows historical data on online enrollments from the late 1990s and claims to analyze in detail online enrollment data from 2009 – 2014, yet IPEDS did not collect distance education data until 2011.

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New NBER Study on Online Education is Deeply Flawed

Caroline Hoxby from Stanford University just published a working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) claiming to analyze “The Returns to Online Postsecondary Education”. tl;dr This report is a hot mess that that conflates online students, enrollments, programs, institutions and uses a bizarre and misleading data set for its analysis.

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Recommended Reading: WCET Survey Report and Tony Bates Commentary

WCET released its survey results on the price and costs of online education last week, focusing on US higher education, and it has caused quite a stir due to the headline, first-look analysis. As Inside Higher Ed described in the article “Online Education Costs More, Not Less”:

The myth that online education courses cost less to produce and therefore save students money on tuition doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, a survey of distance education providers found.

While there is value in countering a myth held by many state legislators and policy makers that online education is a surefire way to save money – and the report does shoot down this myth – it is unfortunate that most of the public discussion is based on the oversimplified summary described above and and entirely-justified pushback that online education does not have to cost more.

The report itself tackles the difficult subject of price (what a student pays) and costs (what it takes to produce) of online vs. face-to-face education with much more nuance and information that gets lost in the conversation. In particular, the “demographics” section is laudable as one of the best description of survey respondents and how this response compares to national averages. And there is text noting discrepancies and limitations to the survey results.  Continue reading

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Vert Capital and Scriba Corp: Institutions losing course data in company’s death throes

After last year’s disastrous outage at UC Davis due to Scriba Corp’s change of data center for the Sakai LMS (branded as SmartSite at UC Davis), it turns out that there is more damage to be done as the company slowly disappears. What appears to have happened in the past few months is that Scriba has not been paying this new data center provider (IO Data Centers), and that company is withholding the data on its servers until the issue is resolved. The end result is that several remaining Scriba customers have lost not just a live Sakai site but also the underlying current and historic course data. In at least one case, this dispute has caused a distance education program to be halted until the school figures out how to set up a new LMS site and to recreate their course content.

Based on two people familiar with Scriba’s recent operations, despite several remaining schools continuing to pay hosting fees, Scriba was not fully paying IO Data Centers. While I have no information on whether there was a legitimate complaint or whether this was simply non-payment to save cash while Scriba died, I will point out that last Spring Scriba’s contract with the Apereo Foundation to remain a commercial affiliate was cancelled under similar circumstances. Scriba simply stopped paying Apereo until the foundation’s board voted to terminate their contract. Continue reading

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