Online learning data reveals interesting findings

eCampusNews | February 11, 2016 - Final Online Report Card highlights switch in enrollments for specific institutions; shows that if online learning hasn’t happened yet, it probably won’t. Online learning enrollment may be up across the board, but one type of institution is climbing up the online enrollment ladder at a breakneck pace; and some institutions may be giving up on online learning before they start.


These are some of the major findings from the 2015 Survey of Online Learning conducted by Babson Survey Research Group in partnership with the Online Learning Consortium(OLC), Pearson, WCET, StudyPortals, and Tyton Partners. The results are part of the Online Report Card, the thirteenth and final annual report tracking online education in the U.S.

General Findings

According to the report–designed, administered and analyzed by the Babson Survey Research Group, with additional data from the national Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS)—2015 found:

  • A year-to-year 3.9 percent increase in the number of distance education students, up from the 3.7 percent rate recorded in 2014.
  • More than one in four students (28 percent) now take at least one distance education course—a total of 5,828,826 students, a year-to-year increase of 217,275.
  • The total of 5.8 million fall 2014 distance education students is composed of 2.85 million taking all of their courses at a distance and 2.97 million taking some, but not all, distance courses.
  • Public institutions command the largest portion of distance education students, with 72.7 percent of all undergraduate and 38.7 percent of all graduate-level distance students.

“The study’s findings highlight a thirteenth consecutive year of growth in the number of students taking courses at a distance,” said study co-author I. Elaine Allen, co-director of the Babson Survey Research Group.

“While enrollments in higher education institutions decreased overall, enrollments in online programs continued to increase,” said Todd Hitchcock, senior vice president of Online Learning Services for Pearson. “We have seen strong growth in online professional degree programs as learners are increasingly focused on employability and career advancement. As more institutions turn to professional degree programs to meet this new demand, we expect to see accelerated growth in online learning continue over the next three-to-five years.”

Trend Findings

In addition to finding that enrollment numbers for online learning are increasing, the report also revealed that enrollment is uneven, spiking in a specific kind of institution: private non-profit.

Private non-profit institutions grew by 11.3 percent, while private for-profit institutions saw their distance enrollments decline by 2.8 percent.

“Clearly, many private, non-profit institutions are aggressively investing in distance education,” noted Russell Poulin, WCET’s Director of Policy & Analysis. “Between 2012 and 2014, students taking all of their courses at a distance grew by 33 percent for non-profits. They were only a few hundred students away from passing the for-profit sector for having the second most number of enrollments. Public colleges still lead the way, by far.”

Also, though “institutions with distance offerings remain as positive as ever,” explains co-author Jeff Seaman,” there has been a retreat among leaders at institutions that do not have any distance offerings.

For example, the proportion of chief academic leaders that say online learning is critical to their long-term strategy fell from 70.8 percent in 2014 to 63.3 percent this year.

Yet, institutions with distance offerings remain steadfast in their belief that it is critical for their long-term strategy (77.2 percent agreeing in 2014 and 77.1 percent in 2015). Meaning, all of the year-to-year change is coming from institutions with no distance offerings, who no longer have aspirations for these programs (33.8 percent thought it was critical in 2014, and only 19.5 percent thought it was critical in 2015).

Another finding revealed that for the past 12 years, no more than one-third of chief academic officers reported that their faculty accepted the value and legitimacy of online education: only 29.1 percent of officers believe their faculty accept the value and legitimacy of online education—a rate lower than the rate recorded in 2004.

Chief academic officers at institutions with large distance enrollments have the most positive view of their faculty’s acceptance (60.1 percent of those at institutions with 10,000 or more online enrollments report faculty acceptance); in contrast, only 11.6 percent of the leaders of institutions with no distance offerings believe their faculty accept the value and legitimacy of online education.

For more information, including whether or not academic leaders believe online learning outcomes are comparable to face-to-face, and the state of MOOC implementation, read the report here.

For an infographic of the report’s findings, click here.

Interactive data site containing all the enrollment data used in the report is available here.

Material from a press release was used in this report.

SOURCE: eCampusNews