Online Education Driving Higher Ed Contingent Workforce


Often, the flexibility and freedom enabled by a well-designed contingent workforce compels innovation and change within an industry. Yet sometimes, as in the case of the higher education industry, pioneering changes drive the need for more smartly designed workforce management plans. Let’s examine the very interesting dynamics unfolding within higher education and how they’re driving growth and improvement in workforce planning practices.

As an industry, higher education is very mature with stable levels of labor demand driven by predictable enrollment levels. Except that is, in one segment of the industry where experts are witnessing growth at rates more commonly encountered in emerging industries like high technology and medicine. We’re talking about the dramatic increase in the popularity of online learning. Did you know that more than 6.3 million students in the U.S. took at least one online course in fall 2016, a 5.6 percent increase from the previous year?

Online study/web-based education is the only area of the higher education industry where enrollment is growing rapidly. According to the higher education subject matter experts at, 71 percent of the nearly 5,000 degree-granting institutions in the U.S. offer some form of online education and students are all in. Enrollment in online education has increased for the 15th straight year, and the trend shows no signs of slowing. The most recent year-to-year growth of 5.6 percent exceeds the growth experienced during the past three years with nearly a full third of all students enrolled in at least one distance education course.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom, online learning is not just relegated to schools focused on distance learning or “for-profit” institutions. Size and composition of the institution does not appear to influence whether or not remote/online learning is offered to a greater or lesser extent. It is indeed happening in all corners of the industry. In fact, the largest percentage of distance education students (67.8 percent) attend public institutions. Public colleges and universities had the largest growth in online course enrollment between fall 2015 and 2016, at 7.3 percent.

According to USNews, “Among all students who were taking at least one distance course in fall 2015, 1,020,622 (17.8%) were at a private non-profit institution, 870,918 (14.5%) were at a for-profit institution, and the vast majority, 4,080,565 (67.8%), were at a public institution.”

So, what does it all mean for those tasked with managing the contingent workforce planning in the higher education industry? Simply put, it reveals the high demand for staff to conduct these online or remote classes. Often administered by adjunct staff, the rising popularity of online courses is driving demand for more contingent staffing. In addition to the academic staff required to meet the demand for online education is an increased demand for the IT resources involved in designing, developing, deploying, and supporting the online infrastructure needed to field successful online courses.

Higher education as a field is in the midst of a profound paradigm change. To keep a higher education organization ahead of the market, management must have a handle on this new and growing population of staff. Is your institution offering remote learning opportunities? Is your workforce ready to support such activities? Contact nextSource for expertise and proven-effective strategies for fielding contingent workforce in support of this hot spot within the higher education field.

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