Who Is Studying Online (and Where)

New federal data show continued (and accelerating) growth in online course taking in 2016, even as overall college enrollments were flat or falling. Big gainers: Western Governors and Arizona State. Big losers: the big for-profits.

January 5, 2018
 

The number of college students enrolled in at least one online course -- and the proportion of all enrolled students who are studying online -- continued to rise at U.S. institutions in the 2016 academic year, newly released federal data show.

The statistics, part of a major release of provisional data on enrollments, employment and other topics from the Education Department's Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, provide the most up-to-date information on enrollments in online and distance education.

The overarching story is a familiar one: even as overall enrollment in postsecondary institutions stays flat (unlike recent numbers from the National Student Clearinghouse, the federal data show enrollments staying roughly constant, not declining), online enrollments climb.

As a result, so, too, does the proportion of all students at institutions eligible to award federal financial aid who are taking at least one course at a distance, as seen in the table below.

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The increased likelihood of being enrolled online is occurring at most levels and types of institutions in higher education.

Since 2014, the proportion of undergraduate students at Title IV-eligible institutions who are enrolled in at least one distance education course has risen from 27.1 percent to 30 percent in 2016, and the proportion of graduate students enrolled at least partially online has grown from 32.5 percent to 36.6 percent in 2016.

Community college students (30.9 percent) were more likely than undergraduates at four-year public institutions (29 percent) and four-year private colleges (25.6 percent) to be enrolled in at least one online course.

But more than two-thirds of the students taking at least one online course in 2016 were at public institutions, while roughly 18 percent were at private nonprofit colleges and 13 percent were at for-profit institutions. And the growth in the number of students taking at least one online course in 2016 was greater among public institutions than it was for private institutions, a change in the pattern of recent years.

  2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
All Students 20,511,849 20,454,336 20,637,987 20,536,231 20,464,608
Students Not Enrolled in Any Distance Courses 15,425,940 15,157,495 14,885,489 14,547,400 14,124,317
Students Enrolled in at Least One Distance Course 5,085,909 5,296,841 5,752,498 5,988,831 6,340,291
Proportion of All Students Who Are Enrolled in at Least One Distance Course 24.8% 25.9% 27.9% 29.2% 31%
Students Enrolled Exclusively in Distance Courses 2,310,056 2,427,504 2,804,867 2,873,144 2,983,075
Students Enrolled in Some (but Not All) Distance Courses 2,775,853 2,869,337 2,947,631 3,115,687 3,357,216

Students at for-profit colleges were by far likeliest to be enrolled at a distance -- a full 57.5 percent studied at least partially online in 2016. But for-profit institutions as a sector continued to see a large overall drop in the number of students they enrolled (from about 1.54 million in 2015 to about 1.46 million in fall 2016), so the number of students enrolled online dropped, too.

Where Are They Enrolling?

Not surprisingly given that fact, for-profit institutions dominate the list of individual institutions that experienced meaningful drops in online enrollment from 2015 to 2016, led by the University of Phoenix, American Public University System and Kaplan University. Phoenix's drop was particularly stark -- more than 30,000 students.

But not all for-profit institutions had similar fates: Grand Canyon University grew by nearly 25 percent, and institutions such as Walden, Capella and Ashford Universities held steady or grew modestly.

The biggest gainers among nonprofit institutions were behemoths like Western Governors University and Arizona State University. A few, including Liberty University and Baker College, lost significant enrollments. (Note: The table below has been updated from an earlier version to correct some data.)

  Number of Students Taking at Least One Class Online, 2015 Number of Students Taking at Least One Class Online, 2016
University of Phoenix-Arizona 162,003 129,332
Western Governors University 70,504 84,289
Grand Canyon University 54,543 68,542
Liberty University 72,519 67,766
Southern New Hampshire University 56,371 63,973
Walden University 52,799 52,565
University of Maryland-University College 48,677 50,932
American Public University System 52,361 48,623
Excelsior College 43,123 41,658
Ashford University 42,046 41,343
Capella University 34,365 37,569
Kaplan University 45,268 37,431
University of Central Florida 33,034 36,107
Brigham Young University-Idaho 33,551 35,826
Ivy Tech Community College 34,103 34,811
Arizona State University-Tempe 22,809 30,989
University of Florida 28,838 30,720
Florida International University 26,341 30,126
Arizona State University 19,094 24,917
Colorado Technical University-Colorado Springs 900 24,692
Chamberlain College of Nursing-Illinois 22,114 24,284
Lone Star College System 21,811 22,873
University of South Florida-Main Campus 20,993 21,661
Columbia Southern University 20,823 21,442
University of Texas at Arlington 17,541 21,330
Full Sail University 19,939 19,273
Houston Community College 19,111 18,877
Valencia College 17,216 18,058
DeVry University-Illinois 20,458 18,015
California State University-Northridge 16,130 17,384
St Petersburg College 16,501 16,349
Texas Tech University 14,826 16,248
Ultimate Medical Academy-Tampa 12,106 16,140
Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus 14,355 15,955
College of Southern Nevada 14,906 15,127
Kent State University at Kent 13,754 15,100
Florida State University 12,858 14,985
University of Houston 12,961 14,667
University of Cincinnati-Main Campus 13,992 14,491
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 10,720 14,090
Ohio State University-Main Campus 11,747 13,640
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Worldwide 12,857 13,443
Pennsylvania State University-World Campus 12,242 13,411
University of North Texas 12,517 13,331
National University 12,116 13,168
Utah State University 13,360 13,122
Northern Virginia Community College 13,421 13,028
University of Arizona 9,660 12,997
Northern Arizona University 11,769 12,906
California State University-Fullerton 11,148 12,742
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities 10,037 12,519
Thomas Edison State University 13,093 12,489
Rutgers University-New Brunswick 10,652 12,461
Florida Atlantic University 10,433 12,441
North Carolina State University 12,321 12,377
Ohio University-Main Campus 10,828 12,177
East Carolina University 12,011 12,133
Columbia College 9,870 12,062
San Diego State University 9,634 12,061
Broward College 10,923 11,991
Cuyahoga Community College District 12,266 11,909
Delgado Community College 4,826 11,791
Fort Hays State University 10,950 11,746
Michigan State University 9,901 11,616
Colorado State University-Global Campus 9,838 11,605
University of Nevada-Las Vegas 10,319 11,529
Florida State College at Jacksonville 11,611 11,506
Rio Salado College 12,092 11,329
Oregon State University 10,148 11,251
Northcentral University 11,029 10,916
Nova Southeastern University 12,147 10,893
Portland Community College 10,849 10,640
Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis 9,807 10,597
Old Dominion University 9,343 10,484
Central Piedmont Community College 10,177 10,463
Wilmington University 12,745 10,409
Utah Valley University 9,557 10,408
Tarrant County College District 10,377 10,402
Austin Community College District 9,896 10,364
University of Alabama at Birmingham 12,371 10,301
The University of Alabama 9,658 10,242
University of Nebraska-Lincoln 7,911 10,237
The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley 9,914 10,200
American InterContinental University-Online 11,560 10,091
California State University-Sacramento 7,511 10,086
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University 9,140 10,077
University of Utah 8,598 9,947
Saint Leo University 11,244 9,899
Central Texas College 10,354 9,775
Columbus State Community College 11,907 9,685
Hillsborough Community College 7,441 9,588
Tidewater Community College 9,989 9,573
SUNY Buffalo State 2,303 9,475
Sam Houston State University 9,278 9,456
Ball State University 8,822 9,395
Drexel University 9,878 9,384
Lamar University 9,120 9,326
Central New Mexico Community College 8,557 9,288
Coastline Community College 9,776 9,227
Wake Technical Community College 8,642 9,187
The University of Texas at El Paso 9,384 9,116
University of Oklahoma 7,617 9,104
Indiana Wesleyan University 0 9,079
The University of Texas at Austin 7,021 9,003
Weber State University 8,433 8,982
South University Savannah Online 10,781 8,954
Johns Hopkins University 8,119 8,882
Baker College 12,081 8,881
Saddleback College 8,514 8,848
Kennesaw State University 10,056 8,800
George Mason University 7,901 8,777
University of New Mexico-Main Campus 8,059 8,771
Texas Woman's University 8,787 8,761
Park University 8,352 8,754
American River College 8,383 8,731
Troy University 8,824 8,706
Texas A & M University-Commerce 8,335 8,699
University of North Carolina at Greensboro 7,395 8,644
Grantham University 11,721 8,637
Eastern Kentucky University 8,368 8,630
Salt Lake Community College 7,504 8,595
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee 8,600 8,588
University of Missouri-Columbia 10,572 8,576
Keiser University-Ft Lauderdale 7,672 8,568
Oklahoma State University-Main Campus 7,413 8,479
San Jacinto Community College 7,961 8,475
University of Iowa 12,784 8,405
Western Kentucky University 7,687 8,395
University of South Carolina-Columbia 7,094 8,394
Richland College 5,343 8,317
Lorain County Community College 4,967 8,232
San Francisco State University 6,557 8,147
Santa Monica College 7,499 8,096
Palomar College 7,306 7,952
San Joaquin Delta College 7,474 7,941
California State University-East Bay 7,684 7,913
University of Nebraska at Omaha 7,537 7,893
Wichita State University 7,483 7,873
California State Polytechnic University-Pomona 6,298 7,871
Bellevue University 8,516 7,814
Fayetteville Technical Community College 7,520 7,789
University of Tennessee-Knoxville 6,515 7,760
Tulsa Community College 7,870 7,612
The University of West Florida 6,922 7,611
Regent University 6,010 7,554
University of Toledo 7,266 7,545
Palm Beach State College 7,399 7,536
Arkansas State University-Main Campus 6,747 7,525
West Virginia University 4,882 7,516
University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth 930 7,514

 

 

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