An exploratory comparison of delivery costs in classroom and online instruction

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Robinson, Robert Lloyd, 1962-

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Enrollment in online courses within colleges and universities is growing at a rate far exceeding that of enrollment in classroom-delivered, face-to-face courses. Given this growth, it is important that administrators understand the costs required to deliver online courses. A frequently asked question by policy-makers is whether online instruction is more or less expensive to deliver than comparable face-to-face, classroom-delivered instruction. The objectives of this study were to 1) develop a exploratory model for deriving a cost measure for classroom-delivered instruction and an analogous model for deriving a cost measure for delivering online instruction, 2) perform an interinstitutional comparison of both classroom-delivered and online-delivered courses, 3) identify the opinions and assumptions of various campus administrators regarding online courses, and 4) identify the role of costs in the academic decision-making process regarding offering online courses. The study employed a mixed-methods research methodology. The quantitative analysis was performed using publicly available data from seven public institutions. The qualitative analysis entailed directed interviews with 12 preidentified campus decision makers from those institutions: six chief business officers and six chief academic officers. The study found that, for the organizations studied, online courses are delivered at a lower unit cost than face-to-face courses. In addition, the study determined that as an academic decision factor, cost is overwhelmed by other factors such as enrollment growth, campus space constraints, and broadening access.