Can Online Delivery Increase Access to Education?

Higher Education, New Findings, October 2016

Though online tech­nol­ogy has gen­er­ated excite­ment about its poten­tial to increase access to edu­ca­tion, most research has focused on com­par­ing stu­dent per­for­mance across online and in-person for­mats. The authors pro­vide the first evi­dence that online edu­ca­tion affects the num­ber of peo­ple pur­su­ing for­mal edu­ca­tion. They study the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Online M.S. in Computer Science, the ear­li­est model to com­bine the inex­pen­sive nature of online edu­ca­tion with a highly-ranked degree pro­gram. Regression dis­con­ti­nu­ity esti­mates exploit­ing an admis­sions thresh­old unknown to appli­cants show that access to this online option sub­stan­tially increases over­all enroll­ment in for­mal edu­ca­tion, expand­ing the pool of stu­dents rather than sub­sti­tut­ing for exist­ing edu­ca­tional options. Demand for the online option is dri­ven by mid-career Americans. By sat­is­fy­ing large, pre­vi­ously unmet demand for mid-career train­ing, this sin­gle pro­gram will boost annual pro­duc­tion of American com­puter sci­ence master’s degrees by about seven per­cent. More gen­er­ally, these results sug­gest that low-cost, high-quality online options may open oppor­tu­ni­ties for pop­u­la­tions who would not oth­er­wise pur­sue education.