Think Out Loud

Oregon State University earns top 10 online education ranking, 10 years in a row

By Sheraz Sadiq (OPB)
Feb. 15, 2024 3:45 p.m.

Broadcast: Thursday, Feb. 15

For the 10th consecutive year, U.S. News and World Report has named Oregon State University one of the top 10 places in the nation to obtain an undergraduate degree online. OSU is ranked fourth, along with Arizona State University and North Carolina State University, for best online bachelor’s programs which were evaluated on factors such as faculty credentials and graduation rates.


OSU was an early adopter of remote learning, making its first leap into the space more than 20 years ago. Today, students in all 50 states and nearly 60 countries attend courses virtually through OSU’s Ecampus. The online offerings cover more than 100 different subjects that are taught and developed by the same faculty who teach students seated in lecture halls or science labs.

According to Lisa Templeton, the vice provost of Ecampus, online enrollment grew more than 10% last year, with about 3 in 10 students learning exclusively online last fall. Templeton joins us to talk about the expansion of online learning at OSU, along with Joann Malumaleumu, an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, who graduated last year with an online bachelor’s degree from OSU.

The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer: Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB. I’m Dave Miller. For the 10th consecutive year, U.S. News and World Report has named Oregon State University one of the top places in the country to get an undergraduate degree online. OSU was an early adopter of remote learning. It started more than 20 years ago. Today, students in all 50 states and nearly 60 countries attend courses virtually through OSU’s Ecampus. Online enrollment grew more than 10% last year. Joann Malumaleumu was one of those online students. She graduated last year. She is an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. Lisa Templeton is OSU’s vice provost for Ecampus. They both join me now. It’s great to have both of you on Think Out Loud.

Lisa Templeton: Thank you. It’s nice to be here.

Joann Malumaleumu: Yeah, it’s great to be here. Thank you.

Miller: Lisa first. I think that for a lot of people online education conjures up maybe the pandemic or relatively recent times. I was surprised to see that you at OSU have been doing this for more than 20 years. Why did you start?

Templeton: Yeah, that’s a great question. Oregon State University, as you’re aware, is the land grant institution for the state of Oregon. And because of this, access is part of our mission. So what we have always been doing with Ecampus, our online education division, is trying to provide access to learners to what we offer here in Corvallis. So we know we have students in Eastern Oregon, like Joann. We know we have that working mom up in Portland who has a day job, has kids to put to bed, and then the only time she would have to study would be in the evening. So not everyone could get to Corvallis, Oregon at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday for a class.

How are we going to provide access to what we offer here to learners around the state? And that’s really where Ecampus stemmed from. We thought let’s create online quality programs for learners around the state. And then it took off. Because it’s online, we found that we have learners all around the country who are interested. And then we grew with our reputation and our vast array of programs to learners around the world. So when we developed Ecampus, it was really about that land grant mission, but if you would have asked me then, would you have this many learners from all around the world, I would have been shocked.

Miller: Back then, before Zoom, before broadband, not that it’s everywhere, but before the internet, that for many people is fast enough that they can have streaming video or live video feeds, what was it like technologically?

Templeton: I just want to clarify. Our classes aren’t like a Zoom. So if you watched your kids in the bedroom during the pandemic, just staring at a screen, listening to a teacher, that’s not what we do in Ecampus.

So I guess first to answer your question, before the technology was there, we did all sorts of things. We grew from a division that was more of a continuing division where actually faculty would drive to different locations and teach courses and then we had actual VHS tapes that we would video faculty and we would ship them out. And then as the online prevailed, the web, we were able to do things better. So what we do in our classes, it’s not a Zoom, it’s not a faculty lecturing at a student for 50 minutes. That’s not even good in a site based classroom, having someone lecture at you for 50 minutes.

What we do is we create interactive classes and the best online class has three forms of interaction. We have the students interacting with the faculty member, the students interacting with other students, and the student interacting with the content and the technology. Every year, I’m like, wow, we couldn’t do that last year. There’s a new tool that’s gonna enable us to do something different. So, where we were and where we’ve come, night and day. And so right now these are really engaging courses that are designed for working adults. It’s not just staring at a screen.

Miller: Joann Malumaleumu, can you describe your day job? Lisa mentioned that for some people, they are working people and going to in person classes in Corvallis or Bend  doesn’t work for them. What’s your day job?

Malumaleumu: I’m a wraparound service coordinator for the Confederated Tribes of the Indian Reservation education program. And as Lisa mentioned, I wouldn’t have been able to drive to Corvallis and be at class by one o’clock in the afternoon. And by being able to take the online classes, I was able to work full time here at my home. I have four children, two of them who are still in school. And it was easier for me to be able to take the Ecampus classes and still work full time, still have my children be here at our home, while I’m pursuing my higher education.

Miller: Wow. So I can see the challenge of going from where you live to Bend or Corvallis. That seems impossible because you have two school age kids and a full-time job, and you also were taking a full course load. So it seems really hard to fit in a full course load even if you’re doing it on your own time. I mean, what was your schedule like?

Malumaleumu: So I worked pretty much 40 hours a week and that’s the nice thing about Ecampus, as Lisa mentioned, there’s different platforms I could take. Like with the teachers, they had office hours [so] that I can contact them. There were Zoom hours or I could text them, I could call them. There were just so many nontraditional ways to communicate, not only with the teachers, but with fellow students as well. And surprisingly, there’s actually a lot of students that were on my Ecampus classes that worked as well. They had full-time jobs and it would be funny, we’d actually connect and say, let’s do a study group at midnight. So I would literally be working during the day, I’d get off of work, I’d bring my kids to their extracurricular activities, get them home, feed them, do homework, put them to bed and then my school work would start probably about 10 o’clock that night. And sometimes I’d go ‘till maybe two in the morning.

Miller: 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Go to bed, wake up, get the kids ready for school, put in your eight hours of work, take them to whatever they needed, take care of dinner and then when they were asleep, it was back to college.

Malumaleumu: Yeah. It sounds crazy but it was very doable because I can also do that on the weekends as well. So it wasn’t like Monday through Friday this was happening. I could, especially on weekends, spread my time out. And when I knew when material was due or this and that, then I could spread that out over the weekend as well. So it was really flexible. It was definitely doable. To say it and to literally think about that now it’s like, wow, that’s a crazy schedule, but it’s definitely doable.

Miller: Lisa Templeton, why do you think that Ecampus enrollment is increasing so much more than on campus? It was a 10% increase last year in Ecampus enrollment, which was more than twice as much as enrollment at the Cascades campus or the main campus in Corvallis.


Templeton: So you may be aware but nationally, there are over 40 million people in the U.S. with some college and no degree. And those are the people I really worry about the most because they probably have debt. They’ve started school and they didn’t finish. They don’t have that benefit of the degree. And those are typically the students we’re working with. There’s so many of them out there that have started at one point, their college. Whether it be a community college, at a university, many of them have started and stopped multiple times. And that’s really who we’re working with, these adult learners who want to finish that degree. So they’re transferring in all sorts of different credit hours from different institutions. This is a big population. They want the benefits of that degree, of completing. So we’re really focusing on that and it’s a large growing population.

The adult learner population, nationally, is growing faster than the traditional age. I’m sure you’ve heard about the demographic cliff with the 18 year olds going to college. So I think there’s a couple of things going on, right? We have this growing population who want to finish. And then also at Oregon State, we were an early adopter of this. We have a recognized, trusted name in online education. I’d say our courses, to anyone, are the highest quality out there.

So I think there’s a few things that are really lined up. There is a growing population, our recognition of high quality programs, we have great student success and support services for adult students like Joann. I mean, as crazy as the way she describes her day and night working, that’s really common. There are a lot of students out there [and] the majority of our students are doing similar things to Joann. They’re working full-time. They have families, community responsibilities, so they need that flexibility. So I think those are some of the factors. People want to finish that degree, they need the flexibility of online and Oregon State is a trusted brand for quality online education.

Miller: Are the courses that have become most popular or the changes in popularity over time the same for Ecampus students as they are for the brick and mortar campus, or are people attracted to different courses or majors in general on the Ecampus?

Templeton: We offer over 103 degrees and certificate programs online, and the majority of those are also offered on campus. So yes, some of our more popular programs that are popular on campus are also popular online, like Computer Science, Business. But every now and then we create an online program and we’re surprised at the popularity, and a good example is Zoology. We developed Zoology online and that really took off quickly. We have a good sense, before we develop a program, what the market is for that program. We do a lot of market research because it costs a lot to develop a high quality program and we want to make sure that we’re meeting a market need, we’re meeting learners’ needs. So the majority of the programs that we offer that are highly enrolled are also highly enrolled on campus.

We’re also doing some interesting things in the online space. We’ve launched a micro-credential pilot. So what we’re doing here is yes, our degrees are out there. A learner wants an entire degree, like Joann wants to finish a degree, we have degrees, but we’re also looking at ways that we can create programs that are shorter, less expensive to help people upskill or re-skill in their jobs. So we’re bundling three different courses together and calling them micro-credential and awarding a digital badge. This is kind of in a pilot phase, but it’s been really exciting.

Then we’re also looking at things like corporate education, workforce education and working with government agencies [and] corporations to provide online education to their workforce. So lots of different things going on. We’re testing some new things, but tried and true are these high demand programs that are on campus [and] very much high demand online as well

Miller: Joann, what did you choose to study?

Malumaleumu: I chose to study because I wanted to further my education I had already started. When I graduated high school, I went to community college and it was a traditional community college. I went to classes, that whole thing. And then, like Lisa stated, as with a bunch of Ecampus students, life happened. I met my husband, well, soon to be husband, and we had children. And then I started Oregon State University and then my father started aging. So I became a caregiver. Then juggling work, school and I had to leave Oregon State momentarily and do the caregiving thing. Then I returned back to Oregon State. So just being able to have that flexibility.

Like Lisa mentioned as well, I wanted to continue finishing my education. I was making that investment in myself and as I work in the career that I’m currently in, it’s helped not only professionally but on a personal level as well.

Miller: Did you attend the graduation ceremony in person after attending school online?

Malumaleumu: I did. The really neat thing about their graduation is…the main graduation for all students from Oregon State University happened at Reser Stadium, like on a Saturday. However, the day before they had graduation ceremonies for the different colleges. So mine was the College of Public Health and the different departments have their own ceremonies. I went to those and that was fun as well. And then I was part of the Native American Club that they have down there. They had a graduation. You just saw families and children and young kids and students. I mean, it was nice to actually literally meet fellow students who I’ve had discussion board posts with throughout the time that I was there, to actually meet them in person. So that was really neat.

Miller: Did you feel like you were a part of a community, like you knew people, like you had fellow students throughout your time?

Malumaleumu: Oh, for sure. I guess when people think, oh, it’s  Ecampus, I’m not going to connect with anybody. It was totally opposite. I felt like I was such part of the community. And like I said, that day before when we had our individual college and department graduations, meeting the people that I’ve talked to or did discussion board posts with literally throughout the whole terms, throughout different terms, it was nice to put a face to the name and actually physically see them in person. So, yeah, I definitely felt connected.

Miller: Lisa Templeton, you mentioned that a lot of your students transfer with credits from other places. Maybe they’re coming back to school, often that’s the case. Given that, can you make an apples-to-apples comparison of in-person versus online student graduation rates?

Templeton: We really try not to do that because they’re such different populations.

When a campus student comes to Oregon State in Corvallis or Bend, often they are tracked as the first time, full-time cohort. It means they’re typically a freshman, they’re 18 years old and they take classes every term, a full load every term, and they graduate and that’s kind of the typical first year student.

Our students, like Joann, they came in with different amounts of credits. Things happen in their family and they stop, and we see that often. They stop because a family member is ill or this is a term that they need to be with their child for a special event or  travel or something comes up, and then they re-enroll the next term or two terms later. So we try not to look at the same criteria to say, OK, well, these students are graduating at a faster rate than the online students because it’s kind of obvious they are. If you’re taking a full load every term versus I’m taking one or two courses every term, it’s gonna be different. We have many students who don’t enroll full time through Ecampus. The majority of our students are part-time and they are just chugging along one or two classes every term, taking a term off, one or two classes. So it takes them quite a bit of time to graduate.

Miller: Lisa Templeton and Joann Malumaleumu, thanks very much.

Templeton: Thanks so much for talking with us. Really appreciate it.

Malumaleumu:  Thank you. We really appreciate it.

Miller: Lisa Templeton is vice provost for Ecampus at Oregon State University. Joann Malumaleumu was one of the students at the campus. She graduated from OSU in 2023.

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