10 new facts about students and distance education

IPEDS data system reveals that the perception of distance education may be exaggerated

distance-education-IPEDSAccording to a new analysis of the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), the current national conception that distance education is “booming,” is an exaggeration, since only a low percentage of postsecondary students are enrolled in a distance education course.

The analysis, conducted by the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET), which brings higher-ed stakeholders and institutions to “improve the quality and reach” of eLearning programs, and based on the same methodology of Phil Hill of the e-Literate blog, is based off of IPEDS’ first time inclusion of data on students taking distance education courses in Fall 2012.

“With this data, we can finally get a comprehensive, objective look at the current state of distance education adoption nationally,” said Terri Straut of Ascension Consulting, who provided the analysis for WCET.

Analysis of the IPEDS data was conducted on all degree-granting institutions in the U.S., which represents 4,726 institutions of higher education (IHE) in total, both 4-year and 2-year colleges. This data set matches the data set that Hill has used in his recent blogs that analyze the new distance education data. According to Hill, the data set also matches the historical data reported by the Babson Survey Research Group (BSRG)/Sloan-C/Pearson survey.

Straut’s analysis provides data not just on the number of students enrolled in a distance education (DE) course, but breaks the numbers down by state, as well as type of institution (public, non-profit, and for-profit).

(Next page: 10 facts about distance education)

1. One in four (26 percent) students enrolled in at least one distance education course in the Fall of 2012.

“That’s 5.4 million student enrollments, an impressive level of adoption, but it hardly lives up to the hype that often suggests that technology is totally changing the way teaching and learning are conducted in higher education,” writes Straut.

State data:

2.  The top 10 ranked states (for students enrolled in that state’s higher-ed institutions) represent nearly a third (31 percent) of all DE enrollments.

3. The level of student participation in at least one DE course varies significantly by state.

4. The states with the highest participation in DE courses are Arizona (66 percent), West Virginia (52 percent), and Iowa (49 percent) of total enrollments.

5. Reporting for enrollment exclusively in DE courses reveal the same three states leading Arizona (49 percent), West Virginia (41 percent) and Iowa (40 percent) of enrollments. Those states are the home to large distance education providers: Arizona (Arizona State University, Argosy University-Phoenix Campus, Grand Canyon University, Rio Salado College, and the University of Phoenix), West Virginia (American Public University System), and Iowa (Ashford University and Kaplan University).

6. The states with the lowest reported participation in DE courses are Rhode Island (12 percent), Massachusetts (14 percent), and Connecticut at (15 percent).

7. There is a much broader spread in the category of exclusive DE enrollment, with Rhode Island representing the lowest fully DE enrollment percentage at 2 percent, followed by Louisiana at 4 percent, and several states (California, Massachusetts, Montana, New York, South Carolina, and Tennessee) at 6 percent of total enrollment.

“While there has been a lot of focus on fully online programs, the data shows that only about 13 percent of degree-seeking students in the U.S. were engaged exclusively in DE programs,” says Straut. “It is also noteworthy that 74 percent of all U.S. students did not have a DE component, according to the IPEDS data. However, the data reveals large differences by state.”

Straut makes sure to note that the analysis represents a combination of graduate and undergraduate distance education courses, “which may obscure much stronger adoption of fully online graduate programs.”

(Next page: Institutional data)

Institutional data:

8. There are 71.4 percent of students enrolled either exclusively or only in some DE courses at public institutions; 19.5 percent at non-profits; and 9.1 percent at for-profits.

9. 48 percent of all student enrollments in for-profit institutions were enrolled exclusively in Distance Education (DE) courses. Only 8 percent of public institution enrollments were exclusively in DE courses.

“For non-profits and for-profits, the majority of their distance students are enrolled fully online, while public students tend to mix their enrollments with traditional courses,” explains Straut.

10. An analysis of data for 2-year and 4-year institutions reveals clearly that adoption in exclusively DE courses is highest, by far, among private, for-profit 4-year institutions at 61 percent, while their for-profit counterparts at the 2-year level report just 4.9 percent of enrollments in exclusively DE courses. Public institutions at the 4-year and above level report 7 percent exclusively online enrollments, public 2-year schools at 10 percent and public, less than 2-year institutions report only 0.5 percent fully online.

For more analysis, including distance education for students in-state versus out-of-state, visit WCET’s post “Clearing Misconceptions in Distance Ed Enrollments by Sector: IPEDS Reality Check,” and “U.S. Distance Education Adoption by the Numbers: An IPEDS Reality Check.

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