After the Pivot: Strategic Evolution of Online Education in the Research University


The Big Ten Academic Alliance Online Leaders wrote this paper as a resource to assist academic leadership in Big Ten Academic Alliance institutions in evaluating strategic decisions related to the future role of online learning activities at their universities.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying rapid shift to remote and online learning have significantly accelerated many preexisting, long-term challenges impacting the teaching mission of our Big Ten institutions, including:

  • Large increases in residential students demanding the flexibility offered by online courses.
  • A major shift of degrees (especially professional master’s degrees) from on campus to online.
  • A significant decrease in the future undergraduate pipeline and accompanying revenue (“the demographic cliff of 2025”).
  • Rapidly emerging student and workforce needs driving the demand for a wider variety of flexible educational opportunities throughout the lifetime of learners (the “60-year curriculum”).
  • The rise of such nonprofit “mega-universities” as ASU Online, University of Maryland Global Campus, and Western Governors (offering online programs to 30,000, 60,000, or even 120,000 students), which is erasing the geographic monopoly of the university.

Members of the Big Ten Academic Alliance Online Leaders Group, composed of the chief online officer (or contact) from each institution, strongly believe that now is the time to take action to position Big Ten institutions to succeed in a significantly altered post-COVID future, where online learning will loom large, strategic investment will be critical, and competition is likely to be intense. Learners are emerging from COVID with significant experience in blended and online spaces, which are now becoming as critical as the physical campus in providing a successful student experience.

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