Less than a decade ago, doubts abounded about the role of online learning in traditional colleges and universities. Today, the online revolution continues to explode. Purdue University’s recent deal to buy the largely virtual Kaplan University is only the latest example of mainstream higher education’s determination to dominate the competitive online market. But there are risks to consider.
Many universities have grown their own online programs, which offer a way to expand access—especially to nontraditional students—while also lowering costs. Our RAND Corporation study of 12 Texas public universities shows that large-scale online courses have the potential to generate net income that can be used to support other important activities, such as graduate research.