Survey Shows College Population Shrinking, Online Education Growing

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Learning House and Aslanian Market Research have announced the results of the fourth annual survey of online college students in an effort to create a profile of the online student for institutions to better serve them in the future.

The organizations have jointly released the survey, “Online College Students 2015: Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences,” each year for the past four years, looking at students currently enrolled in a fully online college program and those who graduated within the last year.  The goal of they survey is to create a profile of who is studying online — and why — in order for institutions to serve the student population more effectively.

While some questions are repeated annually with emerging trends noted, others were new this year.

According to results from this year’s survey, the overall college population is decreasing.  The authors attribute this to the declining national unemployment rate as well as the recovering economy, which they say are causing more people to remain in their jobs rather than to continue their education.

Data released in 2015 from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center show college enrollment declining by around 2%, with the total number of college students reaching 18.6 million today.  Around 5.5 million of these students are studying online either partially or fully.  Meanwhile, competition for these students is increasing, as 421 more institutions introduced online programs between 2012 and 2013, resulting in a 23% increase to 2,250 institutions.

Despite this, study authors found online programs to be gaining acceptance among prospective students who enjoy the flexibility and access to highly valued credentials.  In total, online enrollment is increasing at a rate of around 1% each year.

A number of factors were considered to hold potential with online providers for an increase in enrollment.  Data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center completed in 2015 discovered that 60% of available jobs require some form of postsecondary education, in addition to frequent career changes causing the need for continuing education.  The authors also found that over 31 million students enrolled in college and left without obtaining a degree over the past 20 years.

Lastly, around 111 million adults in the United States currently do not hold a college degree.  Although most of this group would like to earn a degree, they cite rising costs as the largest barrier.

“This report summarizes trends in the online student experience, from recruitment to graduation, and provides insights on how to attract and serve these students. For example, students express a strong preference for selfpaced programs, but few are offered. Reputation is important in selecting a college, but students don’t have a good way to assess it aside from accreditation. Online students believe the value of their experience is equal to or better than that of on-campus classes, but they have a number of concerns that can and should be addressed.”

The survey looked at 1,500 individuals across the nation who were at least 18 years old and held at least a high school degree.  Participants must be either recently, currently, or planning to enroll in an online undergraduate or graduate program, or a fully online certificate or licensure program, within the next 12 months.