A new report,
Grade Increase: Tracking Distance Education in the United States, by the Babson Survey Research Group, reveals distance student enrollments have increased for the fourteenth straight year in 2016.
The most recent gain translates to over thirty percent of higher education students taking at least one distance education course. Growth, however, was uneven; public institutions grew by 7.3 percent, private non-profit institutions by 7.1 percent, while private for-profit institutions had their distance enrollments decline by 4.5 percent.
“The growth of distance enrollments has been relentless,” said study co-author Julia E. Seaman, research director of the
Babson Survey Research Group. “They have gone up when the economy was expanding, when the economy was shrinking, when overall enrollments were growing, and now when overall enrollments are shrinking.”
Key report findings include:
- Distance education enrollments increased for the fourteenth straight year.
- The most recent year-to-year addition of 337,016 distance education students, a 5.6 percent increase, exceeds the gains seen over the past three years.
- Six percent of all students now take at least one distance education course (a total of 6,359,121 students).
- Distance students are fairly evenly split between those who take both distance and non-distance courses (3,356,041 students) and those who take exclusively distance courses (3,003,080).
- Public institutions command the largest portion of distance education students, with 67.8 percent of all distance students.
- Distance education enrollments are highly concentrated, five percent of institutions account for almost half of all distance education students.
- Distance enrollments remain local: 52.8 percent of all students who took at least one distance course also took a course on-campus, and 56.1 percent of those who took only distance courses reside in the same state as the institution at which they are enrolled.
- Virtually no distance enrollments are international: only 0.7 percent of all distance students are located outside of the United States.
- The number of students studying on a campus has dropped by over one million (1,173,805, or 6.4 percent) between 2012 and 2016.
"It is encouraging to see the upward trend in distance learning enrollments continue as students take advantage of flexible, high-quality education opportunities that position them for lifelong success,” said Laura Howe, vice president, global media and communities, Pearson. “As more institutions recognize this growing demand, we expect to see distance enrollments become an increasingly key component of their growth strategy and an important way for more people to make progress throughout their learning journey.”
“The growth in distance learning enrollments, in part, reflects the commitment to quality and innovation by those designing and delivering distance programs,” said Kathleen S. Ives, CEO and executive director, Online Learning Consortium. “Competition for students is more intense than ever, requiring institutions to continue to advance the quality and relevance of their programs, or risk losing ground to those who are successfully serving the education and career goals of the modern learner.”
The complete report, “Grade Increase: Tracking Distance Education in the United States” is available at https://www.onlinelearningsurvey.com/highered.html.
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Online Learning Consortium (OLC) is a collaborative community of higher education leaders and innovators, dedicated to advancing quality digital teaching and learning experiences designed to reach and engage the modern learner – anyone, anywhere, anytime. Visit
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