by Brian Fleming, Senior Analyst and Kelley Ross, Senior Analyst
Our ability to analyze online higher education market data just got a lot more interesting.
For the first time in its history, the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) has collected a long-awaited set of figures on “distance education” for Fall 2012. This not only suggests that non-traditional education is here to stay, but also that IPEDS and the some 4,500 degree-granting Title IV institutions reporting have come a long way to now finally be able to collect and report enrollment metrics for non-traditional modalities, namely online education.
With the availability of this data, which offers remarkable clarity on the size and influence of online and blended learning, this year’s Online Higher Education Market Update will take a closer look at trends across the market and leverage estimates and predictions of where the market will go into 2020 to help size up this rapidly evolving industry and enable institutions to think strategically and more effectively in the coming years.
- How this data works and what it tells us. IPEDS has chosen, most likely to manage the complexity of the reporting process, to present figures in two categories: “exclusively distance,” which obviously includes students enrolled in wholly online programs as well as in a small number of other modalities such as credit-by-exam; and, “some distance” which also includes students taking online courses but either as part of an otherwise face-to-face experience or through various types of blended or hybrid programs. Each category offers figures such as the percentage of distance offerings by institution and degree level, state-by-state and international enrollments, and various discipline-specific metrics such as what program areas are the largest online.
- So how many students learned at a distance in Fall 2012? With data from two- and four-year degree-granting institutions, around 2,700 institutions offered some form of distance education during the Fall semester, by and large “online learning” of some form or another. We also see that just about 2 million undergraduates and about 650,000 graduate students pursued exclusively distance programs during the Fall semester. And from the “some distance” category, about 2.5 million undergraduates and just over 200,000 graduate students pursued some form of distance programming.
- This means just over 5 million studied at a distance in some way. Based on these figures, we estimate that 5,293,437 students took at least some form of distance education during the Fall semester, which would include wholly online programs as well as stand-alone online courses. Significant to note, then, is that of the 20,627,625 students pursuing studies across all of higher education (online and in-person), just over 25% studied online in some form or another. Curiously, these figures are much lower than Sloan-C’s estimate of 6.7 million in 2011, so it will be interesting to see how Sloan-C responds in the coming months.
- And about 3 million studied wholly online. Eduventures’ estimates to date have held up. Following Sloan-C’s definition of wholly online as 80% or more of study conducted online, we estimate that 3,022,247 students pursued online learning in Fall 2012. We reach our estimate from both the “Exclusively Distance” category and reasonable segments of the “Some Distance” category for undergraduate and graduate students. This means roughly 15% of students studied online in Fall 2012, a trend that will only increase in the coming years.
- The big players are still by and large non-traditional and early online adopters: mainly the for-profits, but with a sizable number of non-profits too. By headcount, most of the big players in online remain the for-profits: Phoenix-Online, Ashford, American Public University, Walden, Grand Canyon, and Capella. Liberty is also in the mix as are Western Governors and Maryland-Online. Four-year publics with the largest enrollments include Thomas Edison State, Fort Hayes State, and Penn State Online, all early adopters and highly innovative in terms of adult-learner focus. A number of private non-profits also stand out, including National, Southern New Hampshire, Drexel, and Northeastern, each with distinct adult-serving units dedicated to online programming and impressive national reach.
- Institutions with the broadest geographic reach are still “non-traditional.” Especially at the graduate level, the largest institutions online are also the most geographically diverse. Primarily for-profits command the largest national enrollments (Phoenix, Grand Canyon), but a number of non-profits stand out, including Southern New Hampshire, which has strategically leveraged the appeal of a traditional and national brand with the value propositions of an online learning experience. Walden by far has the largest international reach, with over 2,000 students studying online. Other notable international players in this market include Liberty and University of Texas-Arlington.
- And online’s international reach is still quite minimal. We estimate that less than 2% of all “exclusively distance” enrollments were international in Fall 2012. Compare that to the 50% of “exclusively distance” enrollments, U.S. students and international combined, which actually came from the same state where the institution is located. In all it appears that online is still very much a regional endeavor for the vast majority of institutions.
Learn more about our work in the Online and Continuing Education space.