"We do not accept online coursework" is appearing on more U.S. university websites and in college catalogs. Schools of pharmacy, medicine and nursing are among the first turning away transfer of online laboratory coursework. Some programs in the performing arts are joining them.
The George Washington University Medical School website for a Doctor of Medicine bluntly states: “No, we do not accept online coursework.” The University of Colorado Denver School of Pharmacy states: "We do not accept any pre-pharmacy math, science or public speaking courses taken online." The University of Southern California School of Pharmacy declares “We do not accept on-line classes for math and science pre-pharmacy courses.” That means online lectures don’t transfer either. University of Wisconsin Pharmacy School concurs that: “All prerequisite science courses must be taken in a classroom setting.” Texas Tech University School of Allied Health Sciences Physicians Assistant program concludes: “...online science courses will not be accepted.” Some schools exclude all online courses: "Currently at USD, the College of Arts and Sciences and School of Business do not accept online courses at the undergraduate level.”
With the first generation of undergraduates from online programs now applying to professional and doctoral programs, faculty are making decisions on the inadequacy of students who have taken prior coursework in online formats. A sample rationale is explained in the restrictions established less than two years ago by the University of California system:
“...Online lab science courses will not be approved unless they include a supervised wet lab component. Since UC has not seen computer software that adequately replicates the laboratory experience, computer simulated labs and lab kits will not be acceptable. UC faculty considers the experimentation process a critical component of any laboratory science course because it brings the scientific process to life. Although online labs have been created by several online providers, UC faculty is not convinced that they adequately replicate the wet lab experience...."
While online labs are obviously questionable, similar concerns are mounting for performance classes that require the presence of a teacher to demonstrate and correct techniques. Again, the U.C. policy details their concerns: "Online visual and performing arts (VPA) courses will not be approved because it is difficult for students taking online courses to experience the required performance component of performance arts courses and/or replicate the expected portfolio component of visual arts courses. UC faculty believes that performance is a necessary component of any performance arts course. Whether it is a course in band, choir, drama, dance, or painting/drawing the immediate feedback and coaching of an instructor (e.g., adjusting the toe point of a dancer, correcting the musical intonation of a student musician, advising greater voice projection for a student actor, or demonstrating correct technique for a student artist) is a critical and necessary component of any course.”
Selective liberal arts colleges such as Grinnell never ventured into the online business. But on many non-selective state campuses, a tension exists between administrators who want to compete with the online for-profit schools, and faculty who are far less enamored. A survey of public universities and colleges, “The Paradox of Faculty Voices: Views and Experiences With Online Learning” released August 2009 by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities found 70 percent of faculty members believe online courses to be either inferior or somewhat inferior in learning outcomes when compared with face-to-face instruction. Even surveying just those faculty who teach online, nearly half gave it an inferior or somewhat inferior ranking.
The popular American comedy show Saturday Night Live ran a skit this last year based on the most important lesson at an online university being on how to hide the fact you have an online degree. This is no laughing matter with legislators where government loan programs are supporting what can be questionable “coursework.”
Currently there is a biology masters degree offered completely online just across the Kansas border. Yet, my colleagues at Kansas doctoral institutions have indicated they would never accept such a student. But neither that online program nor the current Kansas catalogs reveal that such an online degree is very limited and perhaps useless for continued study. Students contemplating online courses or programs would be wise to first check to be sure the online courses or degree will be accepted.
More and more, that answer may be “no.”