A new interactive map breaks down big data in order to help online schools find the right online students for them

map-potential-studentsAs online distance education continues to grow, it has become increasingly difficult for many institutions to determine where they can find new online students in need of their services.

However, thanks to a new interactive map developed by Hanover Research, that problem can now become a thing of the past. Using the National Center for Education Statistics‘ (or NCES) recently published distance education enrollment data, the new map is the first of its kind to visually break down that big data into actionable information.

Both the need to break down big data in tangibly useful ways and the need to better identify potential new online students have been major areas in distance education that required improvement moving forward, so for those reasons especially, the new map is being touted as truly innovative.

The new map ensures that post-secondary institutions can see how well online students are being catered to both in their own states and elsewhere around the country, with the aim of allowing distance educators to determine more effective strategies for their institutions through the extrapolation of legitimate insight from the high volume of data now that it is visualized.

The ability to visualize this data greatly enhances market research, says the Hanover, as institutions can now better understand how much they are competing with other schools in their state, as well as nationwide institutions, through discovering where distance education students live. Similarly, if they now find there is a shortfall of students enrolling in online institutions within their own state or even in other states, they can redouble their marketing efforts and send representatives to under-served areas that have the most interested students.

By not taking a shot in the dark, online institutions will be able to develop better recruiting strategies as well as save time and money that can then be reallocated back into enhancing their intuitions, explains Hanover.

Aside from these sweeping improvements that the map aims to accomplish, it has also unearthed some interesting trends when it comes to leadership in online distance education.

(Next Page: Learn more about the interactive map and what it revealed)

In order to create the map, Hanover Research analyzed and mapped the latest NCES distance education enrollment data, along with information gathered from the NCES’s Integrated Post-secondary Education Data System (IPEDS) to determine the total number of post-secondary students in each state.

After analyzing and mapping the data, Hanover focused on two measures. The first was “the percentage of degree-seeking undergraduate students enrolled in four-year institutions (as defined by IPEDS) in the state that are enrolled exclusively in distance education courses and live outside the state.” The second was “the percentage of degree-seeking undergraduate students enrolled in four-year institutions in the state that are enrolled exclusively in distance education courses and live within the state.”

Furthermore, the interactive map has four options for viewing: Total Distance Education Students, Distance Education Students from Different States, Distance Education Students from Same State, and Distance Education Students from Outside US or Unknown Location.

Through analyzing what is shown by the map, numerous trends have become more apparent:

Nationally, the distance education market is dominated by a few large nationwide institutions that serve students beyond just their home state. The largest institution is Arizona’s University of Phoenix, with over 200,000 undergraduate distance education students, and more than half of degree-seeking undergraduates enrolled in four-year institutions in Arizona are also enrolled in distance education programs. However, few of those students are actually Arizona residents.

The map also reveals that the only other state where more than half of students are enrolled online is Iowa, which is home to Ashford University and Kaplan University’s flagship campus, which have 68,000 and 34,000 online undergraduates respectively. West Virgina also comes close, with its American Public University System distance students accounting for 40% of the state’s undergraduate enrollments at four-year institutions.

Some of the higher-population states like New York, Florida and Illinois, though their distance education students do not comprise as much of their state’s percentage of four-year undergraduate students, also still have many online institutions. Florida was recognized by Hanover for having six different institutions with at least 5,000 degree-seeking undergraduates enrolled in distance education programs when most states only have one or two.

Kansas was also recognized for standing out, as its Fort Hayes State University reported 3,600 students from outside the United States were enrolled in its undergraduate distance education programs in 2012-2013. In a stark contrast, no other schools had more than 200.

(Next page: See what the map reveals about same-state institutions)

Within states, though, things are a little different, as there are far fewer institutions focused on serving in-state (or same-state as it is referred to in the report) students through distance education programs.

However, one exception to this rule is Maryland. University of Maryland’s University College enrolls 20,000 students from Maryland as undergraduate distance education students, “making it the largest institution in terms of same-state students by a wide margin.”

Florida has almost 56,000 residents enrolled in undergraduate four-year distance education programs. Also, though the numbers are not large due to population size, Alaska and South Dakota boast a fairly high percentage of in-state students enrolled in same-state distance education students. Rhode Island had the fewest same-state distance education enrollments with only 242.

One state that is an interesting case study is California. With less total students enrolled in distance education than the far smaller Ohio by about 33%, California has the fewest students enrolled in online same-state institutions relative to population size. This issue is particularly pertinent within the University of California system, as Governor Jerry Brown recently advocated for more online courses to help alleviate budget deficits at a recent regent’s committee meeting.

And all of this information perhaps only scratches the surface of what can be extrapolated from the map. With this new tool in the hands of distance education programs, potential student identification can potentially be made easier, and with that achieved, schools can aim to give even greater attention towards improving the quality of their education.

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