Postsecondary Learning

Research Paper on Value of Online College Education Faces Criticism

Mar 2, 2017

Over the past week a research paper about the value of online education appeared, faced widespread criticism, and was then temporarily pulled by its publisher, the National Bureau of Economic Research. The working paper is titled “The Returns to Online Postsecondary Education,” and was written by Stanford University economics professor Caroline M. Hoxby. She set out to determine whether the return on investment for online education is worth the cost to students and taxpayers, and in the abstract she strongly suggests that online is a bad deal. “Online enrollment usually does raise a person's earnings,” she writes, “but almost never by enough to cover the social cost of the education.” 

Phil Hill, a consultant and co-publisher of the E-Literate blog, was among the first to question the way Hoxby came to her conclusions, calling the study “deeply flawed.” His biggest critique is that he says Hoxby lumps in online students with in-person students and otherwise muddles definitions. Inside Higher Education gathered a chorus of responses to the study from other leading observers of online education, many of whom also raised questions about the study. 

Hoxby didn't initially respond to a request from EdSurge for comment, but her assistant said that “the NBER accidentally posted it too early.” It is still awaiting approval from the Treasury Department, she said, which is apparently routine since IRS data is used in the analysis. Was it otherwise final? ”It’s possible it might need other edits,” said Hoxby’s assistant.

Update: Hoxby said in an e-mail that she is not allowed to comment on the paper during the standard Department of Treasury approval period, but that she expects the paper to be reposted soon.

Postsecondary Learning

Research Paper on Value of Online College Education Faces Criticism

Mar 2, 2017

Over the past week a research paper about the value of online education appeared, faced widespread criticism, and was then temporarily pulled by its publisher, the National Bureau of Economic Research. The working paper is titled “The Returns to Online Postsecondary Education,” and was written by Stanford University economics professor Caroline M. Hoxby. She set out to determine whether the return on investment for online education is worth the cost to students and taxpayers, and in the abstract she strongly suggests that online is a bad deal. “Online enrollment usually does raise a person's earnings,” she writes, “but almost never by enough to cover the social cost of the education.” 

Phil Hill, a consultant and co-publisher of the E-Literate blog, was among the first to question the way Hoxby came to her conclusions, calling the study “deeply flawed.” His biggest critique is that he says Hoxby lumps in online students with in-person students and otherwise muddles definitions. Inside Higher Education gathered a chorus of responses to the study from other leading observers of online education, many of whom also raised questions about the study. 

Hoxby didn't initially respond to a request from EdSurge for comment, but her assistant said that “the NBER accidentally posted it too early.” It is still awaiting approval from the Treasury Department, she said, which is apparently routine since IRS data is used in the analysis. Was it otherwise final? ”It’s possible it might need other edits,” said Hoxby’s assistant.

Update: Hoxby said in an e-mail that she is not allowed to comment on the paper during the standard Department of Treasury approval period, but that she expects the paper to be reposted soon.

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