A pair of studies released at the end of 2008 endeavored to provide a snapshot of online education in the US. Both focused on higher (post-secondary) education, and both painted rosy pictures for the future of online schools, despite — or perhaps because of — the current economic recession. Here are some highlights.
This report, drafted by the US Department of Education, found the following for 2- and 4-year Title IV degree-granting post-secondary institutions for the 2006-07 academic year:
- 66% of the schools offered fully online, partially online or other distance education courses.
- 62% of the online courses offered were completely (100%) online. The rest were partially online and partially in a classroom setting.
- Large, public institutions tended to be most likely to offer distance education courses: 94% of public schools had distance classes available, versus only 48% of private schools. Only 51% of schools with under 3,000 students offered distance education, versus 93% of schools with over 3,000 students.
- There were 12,153,000 enrollments in distance education courses. 89% (approximately 10.8 million) of those enrollments were in completely online or partially online courses.
- 32% of the schools offered degree or certificate programs that could be completed entirely online.
- 12% of the schools offered distance education for elementary and secondary school students.
- Most distance education courses (75%) used asynchronous (i.e., not real-time) Internet-based technology as the primary mode of teaching.
- The most common factors cited as affecting the schools’ decision to offer distance education were: meeting student demand for flexible schedules, providing access to college for students who would otherwise not have access, making more courses available, and seeking to increase student enrollment.
This study, which was conducted by The Sloan-C Consortium and the Babson Survey Research Group, defined an “online course” as one in which at least 80% of the content was delivered online. The researchers found the following for the fall 2007 term:
- Online enrollments continued to grow at a rate substantially faster than overall higher education enrollments: 12.9% growth for online enrollments versus 1.2% growth for the overall higher education student population.
- 21.9% (3,938,111) of all students at degree-granting post-secondary schools were taking at least one online course — up from 9.6% in 2002.
- More than 50% of online students were taking classes at 2-year institutions offering Associate’s degrees, compared to 37% of the entire higher education student body.
- Large, public schools were the earliest adopters of online learning.
- Schools believe that the economic downturn will have a positive impact on enrollments overall — including online enrollments. Schools believe that higher fuel costs will lead to more students selecting online courses.
- Institutions that offer programs to serve working adults are the most positive about the potential for overall enrollment growth being driven by rising unemployment.
- The areas of study that had the highest percentage of their programs available completely online were, in order: business, liberal arts, health careers, education, computer/information sciences, social sciences/history, psychology and engineering. All programs of study had similar rates of availability online except engineering, which was substantially lower.
- 85% of all online students come from the within 50 miles of campus.
The differing numbers between the studies are the result of differing methodologies, but the ultimate conclusion is the same: online education is here to stay and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. One of the more intriguing stats is the fact that 85% of online students are local — meaning that it’s not out of the question to meet up with online classmates in the real world for support, study sessions or just to toilet paper the teacher’s house (not recommended).