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College presidents are a lot more optimistic about online learning than the general public is. That's one of the findings from the Pew Research Center latest report, based on surveys of both U.S. adults and U.S. college presidents.

According to Pew, only 29% of the public feel as though online courses offer the same value as those taught in a classroom, while more than half (51%) of college presidents believe they do. Granted, those who've taken online classes do have a more positive outlook on online education than those who haven't, but not by much -- just 39% of folks who've taken a class online have a positive opinion of online learning.

Nevertheless, the demand for online courses continues to grow, something that the college presidents surveyed say their institutions are recognizing. More than three-quarters say their schools offer online classes. But neither the availability nor the opinion of online education seems to be the same across U.S. colleges. Private colleges, for example, are less likely to offer online classes and private colleges' presidents having a far less favorable opinion of online education than presidents of pubic or community colleges.

Another differentiator among college presidents: those who believe that the mission of higher education is to "prepare students for the workforce" are far more likely to support online education than those who say the mission is to "promote personal and intellectual growth."

Regardless -- of those surveyed, more than half believed that in the next ten years, the majority of their students will be taking classes online.

62% of college presidents also predict that in the next ten years, more than half of undergraduates' textbooks will be digital.

That's an interesting point of comparison: college presidents see a move to online classes occurring much more quickly than they do the move to digital textbooks.

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Audrey Watters


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