Online enrollment at nonprofit institutions is on the rise, while for-profit institutions saw a decline of more than 9 percent, according to a new report examining trends and patterns of online enrollment in the U.S.

The findings are detailed in “Digital Learning Compass: Distance Education Enrollment Report 2017.”

Thirty percent of all students in higher education are now taking at least one online course. Those online learners are split almost evenly between students who are exclusively online (14 percent) and those who take some courses in person (16 percent).

The numbers reveal a year-to-year online enrollment increase of 226,375 distance education students–a 3.9 percent increase, up over rates recorded the previous two years. More than 6 million students are now online learners, according to the report.

“The study’s findings highlight yet another year of consecutive growth in the number of students taking courses at a distance,” said study co-author Jeff Seaman, co-director of the Babson Survey Research Group. “This study and earlier reports from the Babson Survey Research Group have shown that distance education growth has a momentum that has continued, even as overall higher education enrollments have been declining.”

More than one in four students (29.7 percent) now take at least one distance education course (a total of 6,022,105 students).

Graduate students are twice as likely to take all of their courses online (26 percent) as undergraduate students (12 percent).

The number of students studying on a campus has dropped by almost 1 million (931,317) between 2012 and 2015. The majority of “exclusively distance” students live in the same state as their institution (55 percent), while 42 percent are studying online at an out-of-state institution.

Public institutions educate the largest proportion of online students (67.8 percent), though more online learners in private institutions attend nonprofit schools than for-profits, according to the data.

The picture of change in online enrollments includes relatively few institutions having large gains or large losses, with most institutions showing modest changes in either direction.

Among those institutions showing large gains, Southern New Hampshire University (a private nonprofit) topped the list with an increase of just under 400 percent between 2012 and 2015, growing by 45,085 students. Four other institutions increased their online enrollment by more than 10,000 students during this period–Western Governors University, Brigham Young University-Idaho, University of Central Florida, and Grand Canyon University. The largest online enrollment drops were recorded by the University of Phoenix and Ashford University, two for-profit institutions.

The report is the first in a series of publications from Digital Learning Compass, a new research partnership of the Babson Survey Research Group, e-Literate, and WCET. Digital Learning Compass partnered with the Online Learning Consortium (OLC), Pearson, and Tyton Partners to produce the report.

About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. When she isn't wrangling her two children, Laura enjoys running, photography, home improvement, and rooting for the Terps. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura http://twitter.com/eSN_Laura


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