Thanks to ASU’s background with sustainability research, ASU determined the key variables included in the net positive impact model for ASU Online:

  • Elimination of student commuting for online students as compared to campus-based, face-to-face degree students.
  • Reduction of the annual energy footprint for online students as compared to campus-based students in terms the construction and use of campus facilities.
  • Increased ICT use for complete online delivery of a degree.
  • Enablement of graduation (via online access) from an “outstanding” undergraduate degree program for students with significant credits already earned toward a degree.
  • Enhancement of average lifetime earnings for students enabled to complete a degree (as reported in the researchers’ literature review).
  • Avoidance of social costs for individuals enabled to complete an undergraduate degree (as reported in the literature).

Keeping these variables in mind, ASU researchers made “detailed calculations of the net positive results,” notes the report [detail behind the calculation of each net positive factor is explained the report’s Appendix], and found that ASU Online positively affects the economy and the climate in four ways:

  1. Online education has become a significant component of ASU’s sustainability strategy due to more degrees leading to more socio-economic impact for a smaller environmental footprint per degree.
  2. As demonstrated through ASU Online enrollment data, the typical online education student is a 31-year old female, ten years older than the typical traditional undergraduate student, allowing a greater diversity of people access to degrees and greater potential lifetime earnings.
  3. Socio-economic benefits of $545,000 per undergraduate degree based on lifetime economic earnings as a result of attaining a bachelor’s degree, potential higher net worth at retirement and social services avoided and/or contributed.
  4. ICT platforms and online programs equate to a carbon savings between 30 and 70 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per undergraduate degree produced through ASU Online based on avoided classroom construction and reduced travel.


“ASU Online’s substantial growth not only increased access to higher education and provided an additional revenue stream to ASU, but also played a key role in the university’s sustainability strategy and shows how sustainability permeates through all aspects of an enterprise’s programs,” said Dan O’Neill, general manager of the Global Sustainability Solutions Services. “This report demonstrates how technology and education merge to affect the triple bottom line of economy, society and environment that defines sustainability practice, a cornerstone to ASU.”

ASU researchers also estimate that, in the near term, nearly 100 percent of an institution’s courses, both immersive and virtual, will be delivered on the same technology platforms.

The study also noted that innovation through ICT will impact future facilities and retrofits built in a more environmentally sound manner, incorporating LEED, Net Zero and Living Building concepts.

Though ASU Online was created primarily to broaden access and affordability, and to provide an additional revenue stream to ASU “it is clear that ASU Online, with its dramatic growth aspirations, will become a significant part of the ASU sustainability story: more degrees leading to more socio-economic impact for a smaller environmental footprint per degree,” emphasizes the report.

“The important point is that ICT is enabling innovation in education in general, and in online education specifically,” the report concludes. “The ratio of positive benefits of producing a college graduate to the resources required to do so, including emissions, is growing larger quickly due to the maturation of online education and the dedication of higher education institutions to making it so. ICT plays a central and critical role.”

For more information on the report, including literature reviewed, methodology used, detailed explanation of ASU’s business models, ASU’s sustainability initiatives, the differences between online and face-to-face components, and much more, click here.