7 Elite Universities Behind the Online Learning Curve

by Staff Writers

It's hard to avoid hearing about online education these days; it's everywhere. While the primary place to get an online degree is still an online college, many brick-and-mortar schools are embracing the online model as well, offering a wide range of courses, degrees, and training. The options are pretty diverse, but not every college is getting on board with the online learning revolution. In fact, some big names in education still offer few resources for students to learn online, limiting content and in some cases offering few, if any, courses solely online. Some of these schools are working towards becoming more engaged online, but many are still well behind the online education curve and may struggle to catch up as other schools continue to expand their offerings and their lead in online education. Here we highlight some of the surprising schools that, for better or worse, haven't quite fully embraced online ed.

  1. The College of William & Mary: As one of the first institutions of higher education in the U.S., the College of William & Mary in Virginia has long been at the forefront of educational innovation, but when it comes to the online sphere that may no longer be true. Currently the school offers no courses that are fully online, a much different approach than many other elite East Coast schools are taking. While the school began adding elements of e-learning into courses almost a decade ago, it still lacks any solely online offerings, and the majority of blended courses take place at the graduate level. That could be changing soon thanks to the school's Creative Adaptation Fund, which will provide $600,000 over the next three years to explore new online learning opportunities for the school and its students.
  2. Brown University: Brown University in Rhode Island isn't completely out of the online education loop, but their offerings are pretty limited when compared to other Ivy League schools. Unlike Harvard and Yale, each of whom have robust online offerings, Brown only offers fully online courses to pre-college students, though it does have blended courses for students in the IE Brown Executive MBA program. Undergraduates and most graduate students don't have the option of taking courses online, and for many, that may be just fine. A survey sent out in the spring of 2012 found that just 24% of students were in favor of the school offering online for-credit courses. Despite its reluctance to offer a wider range of online courses, the school is teaming up with Coursera to share its college prep classes, which could be the first step towards a greater appreciation of the online format.
  3. The University of Chicago: The University of Chicago is one of the most prestigious universities in the U.S., with top-notch degree programs and research facilities that employ some of the nation's best and brightest in a wide range of fields. Yet the Illinois school prefers to deliver its educational material the old-fashioned way, offering an incredibly limited number of online courses. In the spring of 2012, the school announced its first online learning program through the School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies, allowing students to earn certificates in clinical trials management and medial writing and editing though a distance learning format. It's important to note that this is only a certification program: there are no online degrees programs at the school and few, if any, online courses at the undergraduate level. Of course, the university is a relatively new player in the online game, and past failures (the university took part in Fathom, a failed online education venture with Columbia University in 2001) may be encouraging administrators to be cautious as they move into digital formats.
  4. Northwestern University: Another top Chicagoland school is also lacking in online education options. Northwestern University, located in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, doesn't currently offer any fully online courses. The master's degree programs in medical informatics, information systems, and public policy administration, however, offer blended courses, which are a mix between online lectures and activities and in-class meetings. When it comes to undergraduate education and other graduate programs, there just isn't much that's web-based, though some courses do use a wide assortment of online resources. Northwestern doesn't shun online interaction altogether, as it has a regularly updated YouTube channel that offers access to loads of lectures and talks students can learn to use from, but officials seem to prefer learning experiences that take place on campus rather than online — at least for now.
  5. Vanderbilt University: Vanderbilt is no stranger to bringing web resources to students. The school offers great online course management tools, virtual academic counselors, and students can even evaluate their professors via an online system. Despite that, there are few opportunities for students to engage in online learning through the school. Currently, Vanderbilt only offers degree programs online for students pursuing a master's in nursing or related fields. Of course, that doesn't mean that professors at the school aren't interested in online ed. It was announced in early 2012 that Vanderbilt professor Marshall Eakin would be contributing lectures and course materials to The Faculty Project, an educational resource that allows students to take courses online for free. The course has already proven popular, as are Vanderbilt's online nursing programs, the combination of which may motivate the university to investigate other online educational opportunities in the future.
  6. The University of Virginia: Online education, or the lack of it, has been at the root of a major ongoing scandal at the UVA that began unfolding earlier this year. University president Teresa Sullivan was unceremoniously fired under allegations that she didn't demonstrate enough "strategic dynamism." The board felt that Sullivan's incremental plan for moving the university forward, including inching slowly into online education, wasn't aggressive enough. The firing may have been a bit rash, as it did quite a bit of damage to the university's reputation and led to the resignation of several board members. Sullivan defended her decision on online ed, stating that online education wasn't something that the university should just jump into but should carefully consider options and build programs over time so that they would have lasting value. Faculty and the community agreed, and Sullivan has since been reinstated, helping UVA pursue online education for the school in a much more incremental fashion. Though the university already offers a number of online courses, it is planning to expand its online course content over the next decade and recently signed a partnership with Coursera to offer MOOCs from the College of Arts and Science and the Darden School of Business.
  7. Wesleyan University: This prestigious liberal arts school offers students plenty of educational resources online but doesn't yet provide access to any fully online courses for students. In fact, in certain departments, the school won't even accept transfer credit for any courses taken online at other institutions. Students who want to attend this "Little Ivy" have to take classes entirely on campus, as there simply aren't many options for online study. While students may demand online opportunities from larger universities, smaller schools like Wesleyan seem content to focus on traditional in-class education, which for many students is the reason they choose schools like Wesleyan in the first place. Online education opportunities may be much slower to come to small universities, even prestigious ones, as neither students nor faculty feel that they're a priority.