A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education headlined that Virginia Tech (VT) has 1,000 more freshmen students than it expected for its entering class in September 2019.  More than 30,000 students applied to this highly regarded tech college and 8,000 (instead of the expected 7,000) actually enrolled. Space limitations forced school management to turn more students away and to offer some students cash incentives to defer their enrollments.

What’s wrong with this picture? For years, post-secondary enrollments have been declining some 2% across the nation mostly due to the easy job market where applicants for entry jobs need only minimal qualifications to get hired. If you can get an easier job in less demanding subjects, then why should students bother with the rigors of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)?  Industry leaders and educators have been complaining about the nation’s shortage in STEM  prepared graduates to meet future job needs. Suddenly, VT is over-run by STEM applicants to the astonishment of school officials.

One solution is to defer the 1,000 students from starting until VT is ready for the Class of 2023, “no matter what the size.” Further, Northern Virginia University is developing a Virginia Innovation campus in Alexandria for STEM programs, but that won’t be ready for “five to 10 years.” It takes time and financial resources to build new campuses and  upgrade existing ones to handle new students.  While schools are upgrading and building new, what are the 1,000’s of “deferees” doing? 

As an online university educator, I will offer my solution to the problem; a solution that can be implemented easily, economically, and quickly to handle any unexpected surge in enrollments.

Outsource those non-laboratory courses to accredited online schools that have the flexibility to accommodate these students. Not constrained by facility (classrooms and building) needs, these online schools can quickly expand, or contract, courses and can add start dates to accommodate students.

Move both students and courses off campus. Offering general courses online such as English, math, science, and theory courses that do not have companion laboratory requirements frees up the main campus to provide the “hands-on” essential lab elements. Online universities can handle the unanticipated overflow of students, anywhere in the US (or the world), and anytime. These students are not waiting; they are completing coursework simultaneously on- and off- campus toward their degrees. They may even graduate on schedule! 

When enrollments return to normal, or fall below normal, then the outsourcing is not needed, and the online enrollment capacity shrinks or disappears. Consider this as the bellows that expand and contract providing as-needed capacity. Colleges and universities that recognize online education as the wave of the future and implement solutions such as these will continue to grow and thrive in an increasingly technology-oriented world.

University Founder & President Emeritus

About Dr. Donald “Doc” Hecht — Doc is an Educator, University Founder, and President Emeritus writing and discussing the trends and challenges facing higher, online, and distance education, among other topics. Please feel free to comment, make suggestions, or ask any questions! You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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