A new report released today from Arizona State University indicates that the development of online education programs can be a significant component of an institution’s sustainability strategy, based on greater socioeconomic impact for a smaller environmental footprint per degree.
Using ASU Online as a case study, the Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives’ Global Sustainability Solutions Services determined that the increased access to degrees through online education creates socioeconomic benefits of as much as $545,000 or more per undergraduate degree over the lifetime of the graduate, while also reducing the University's carbon footprint by at least 30 metric tons of carbon dioxide per undergraduate degree.
“ASU Online’s substantial growth not only increased access to higher education and provided an additional revenue stream to ASU, but also played a key role in the university’s sustainability strategy and shows how sustainability permeates through all aspects of an enterprise’s programs,” said Dan O’Neill, general manager of the Global Sustainability Solutions Services. “This report demonstrates how technology and education merge to affect the triple bottom line of economy, society and environment that defines sustainability practice, a cornerstone to ASU.”
The carbon footprint reduction was based on significantly decreased car travel coupled with avoiding the building or rebuilding of facilities to accommodate traditional classroom settings. The socioeconomic value was calculated through established formulas to determine lifetime earnings and social services impacts of college graduates.
The study, funded through a contribution from Dell, also determined that online education and the development of information and communication technology to support the required platforms leads to further and more rapid innovation of technology and facilities that support online programs. It was estimated that within the next 20 years nearly 100 percent of an institution’s course, both traditional and online, will be delivered on the same technology platforms.
“The study findings show that technology can unlock multiple layers of social, economic and environmental value especially in the field of education, enabling ASU to plan for a growing student population while staying within existing resource limitations,” said David Lear, Executive Director of Sustainability Programs at Dell. “At Dell, we are committed to working with partners and customers to ensure that the net positive value of the technology we provide creates 10 times more benefit than the resources it takes to manufacture and use those products. This Net Positive approach is a capstone goal of Dell’s Legacy of Good 2020 Plan and the findings of ASU’s Net Positive research reinforce that aspirational goal.”
ASU Online enrollment data shows that the typical online education student is a 31-year-old female, 10 years older than a traditional undergraduate. This demographic indicates that online education also allows for a greater diversity of people to have access to degrees and greater lifetime earnings.
The outcomes and impacts of this report and online education will be discussed as part of a panel at the 2015 ASU+GSV Summit, a global conference dedicated to learning innovation and technology, on Tuesday, April 7. The panel will be moderated by O’Neill and feature Leah Lommel, assistant VP and chief operating officer of ASU Online and EdPlus; Bruno Sarda, director of Global Sustainability Operations at Dell; and Jon Phillips, director of worldwide education at Dell.