Has the number of online programs been exaggerated?

Major discrepancy may exist because of the ‘overly ambiguous and broad’ definition of “online”

online-programs-learningColleges and universities may be drastically over-reporting the number of online programs at their institutions, a new report concluded.

The report, released by ApprovedColleges.com, said that the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) lists far more programs than what actually exists. While IPEDS, which relies on self-reported surveys, lists 3,311 schools offering online programs, ApprovedColleges only found 1,243.

So, if true, why the discrepancy?

“We found two major reasons why the IPEDS database seemingly overinflates the number of schools offering online programs,” the report’s authors wrote. “One, the database includes every location that a school might have listed as a separate entity. Two, the term ‘online’ is overly ambiguous and broad.”

For example, the study said, five for-profit colleges are actually listed as more than 280 campuses. Many colleges also listed courses that aren’t worth any credit as online offerings. ApprovedColleges only counted programs that result in diplomas, certificates, and degrees.

The researchers collected that data by visiting every college and university website and cataloging what online programs they listed. The process has taken 18 months, and 10 percent of the task still remains, though Approved Colleges doesn’t expect the the results to change too much when the additional programs are accounted.

The report will be continually updated, the authors wrote, as Approved Colleges creates its own “living database.”

(Next page: States with the most programs)

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