online education

5 myths to debunk about online education

Following a set of recommendations might help institutions strengthen their online education programs.

A new myth-busting report found that online education has expanded higher education access to students who previously might not have enrolled in it due to time and financial issues.

In fact, 50 percent of online college students said they “would not,” “probably would not,” or were “unsure” if they would have pursued higher education had their program not been offered online.

Online College Students 2016: Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences, from The Learning House, Inc. and Aslanian Market Research, debunks some of the major myths surrounding online education trends and reveals surprising facts about online students and their preferences. It also offers recommendations to help institutions break through the myths and support successful practices.

In addition to evaluating the demographics of the students pursuing online college degrees, the report explores what students are looking for in their online education programs and why they choose to enroll in the programs they do.

(Next page: Five myths of online learning)


Myth No. 1: Financial incentives need to be substantial to impact enrollment

Reality: Cost is the top consideration when students choose an institution, but a small incentive, even $500, can help influence a student’s decision to enroll in an online education program.

Recommendation: Because cost is a primary concern of students, schools should seriously consider strategies to manage price, including lowering tuition or eliminating fees. Even nominal tactics to demonstrate savings can have an impact.

campus quad

Myth No. 2: A physical campus isn’t important to online students

Reality: Students can study anywhere when they’re enrolled online, but 75 percent of students visited their campus at least once during the year.

The report notes that over the past 5 years of conducting the survey, online students tend to stay local–almost 75 percent choose a program offered by an institution within 100 miles of their home, and 55 perent choose one within 50 miles of their home. This may be related to students’ desire to visit campus.

Recommendation: The greatest asset a school has is its local reputation. Unless your institution offers a niche program with broader appear, focus marketing efforts within a 100-mile radius. Students want to feel connected to campus. Fostering these relationships, whether through in-person or virtual events, will help students develop a sense of community.


Myth No. 3: Students are familiar with alternative learning paths – including massive open online courses, micro degrees and bootcamps – and do not need institutions to educate them about their options

Reality: The research found that awareness of alternative pathways is low; 66 percent of those surveyed reported either “no knowledge” or “minimal knowledge” of these options.

Across all three of these alternative credentials, awareness was evenly split into three groups: One-third had no knowledge about these alternatives, one-third had minimal knowledge about them, and one-third were familiar or very familiar with these emerging paths.

Fifty-five percent of online education students who did have some level of familiarity with these alternative credentials reported that they did not consider them during their most recent search for an online education program.

Recommendation: Alternative pathways are becoming an increasingly viable option for students. Because these nascent credentials are not well-known, institutions should consider adopting these programs and then clearly communicating what they are and what value they bring to potential students.


Myth No. 4: Students are indecisive

Reality: Online students apply to just two or three schools, and 68 percent choose a school to apply to in four weeks or less. Fifty-five percent of students decided what program or degree they wanted to pursue before deciding which school to attend.

Recommendation: Because online students know what field they want to study before they apply, schools that offer a comprehensive suite of online programs have an advantage. If a particular school does not offer the major of interest, the student will look elsewhere. The more online education programs a school offers, the better the chance of offering the program any given student wants to study, and doing so cost effectively.


Myth No. 5: Education is a top field of study for graduate students

Reality: Business continues to be the top program for graduate studies, but computer science and IT have displaced graduate education in popularity. From 2014 to 2016, computer and IT graduate students increased from 9 percent to 20 percent.

Recommendation: Online students are motivated by career success. Offering comprehensive career services tailored to the online student can help your institution stand out and improve key metrics around job placement.

“This research demonstrates the important access that online education provides to students, while also highlighting the competitive and rapidly growing nature of the industry,” said David Clinefelter, Chief Academic Officer of Learning House, and one of the study’s authors. “Current estimates place the number of students working towards their degrees online at 3.5 million; we expect that number to grow to 5 million by 2020. Institutions of higher learning cannot afford to ignore this population, nor can they resist catering to their needs and inclinations when it comes to choosing the program that is right for them.”

“Our findings demonstrate the importance of building awareness of alternative pathways and competency-based education,” said Carol Aslanian, President and Founder of Aslanian Market Research. “It is clear that tuition costs continue to play a role in online higher education; maximizing opportunities for students to gain knowledge and expertise – while minimizing the student’s financial burden – will be critical for institutions to succeed in this space.”

The survey was conducted in the spring of 2016. 1,500 individuals were surveyed, all of whom were at least 18 years of age, with a high school degree or equivalent, and were recently graduated, currently enrolled, or planned to enroll in the next twelve months in a fully online undergraduate or graduate degree, certificate, or licensure program.

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Laura Ascione