A new report by The Learning House, Inc. and the Aslanian Market Research on online college student expectations and preferences reveals that students are in favor of blended programs, choose institutions with campuses nearby, and consider online programs as a pathway for improving their career prospects.
The study reveals that online programs are gaining more acceptance from prospective students mostly in view of the flexibility they provide and the credentials students can earn. The growth is steady with online enrollment increasing at 1% every year.
The fourth annual survey reveals that fewer students are going to college in recent years — something the research attributes to the still reviving economy and the decreasing unemployment rate. Today, 18.6 million college students are currently enrolled in higher education, an almost 2% decline from last year, the National Student Clearinghouse Research center report reveals. A total of 5.5 million, more than one third, is in full- or part-time online education.
The competition among online higher education providers is fiercer than ever with a total of 421 institutions offering an online program for the first time in the period between 2012 and 2013.
A key finding is that prospective students consider higher education, including online education, an important credential provider and pathway for career preparation. The report says:
"Roughly 75% of online students seek further education to change careers, get a job, earn a promotion or keep up to date with their skills. The third most appealing marketing message among the group sampled was "a high job placement rate."
Online programs are appealing to more than just adult learners. More individuals under the age of 25 are considering earning their undergraduate degrees online rather than on a traditional campus.
Blended programs, courses that mix online instruction with on-campus participation, seemed to be an attractive model to the respondents. Five in ten respondents said they're willing to attend a low-residency or hybrid course if the program of their preference was not offered 100% online. A total of 22% of respondents consider blended programs that include one or more courses on campus a very attractive option.
An interesting finding is that although carried out online, digital education tends to be local. Fifty percent the surveyed online students live within a 50-mile radius from their campus while more than six in ten online learners live within 100 miles from their institution's campus.
The researchers commented: "Online students typically attend a local institution and rely on local sources for information," also pointing out student's reliance on family and friends when choosing an online program.
The college website is another factor influencing student decisions, and cost is a defining factor for at least 45% of online students who say they choose the most inexpensive solution.
At the same time, online education could improve further, online college students make clear. According to the survey, one in ten online students considers online learning inferior to the experience classroom-based instruction offers.
The nationwide survey included 1,500 respondents who were already enrolled in an online program, were considering one or have graduated within the past year.