A new released report from education technology platform Learning House and Aslanian Market Research, the leading organization for online and adult market research, has detailed the demographics of those students enrolling in online degree programs, as well as what students are looking for in these programs and why they decided to enroll.
The annual report, "Online College Students 2016: Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences," determined that online college education has increased access to students who may not have previously enrolled in such programs as a result of time and money issues. A total of 50% of participants reported that they "would not," "probably would not," or were "unsure" if they would have looked into higher education if their degree program had not been available online.
Researchers found that many students today are selecting their schools at a faster rate and are not considering as many institutions, with many choosing the first program they see that they like. These students also have an expectation that communication will happen at an increased pace for everything they submit, including financial aid materials and transfer credit eligibility.
"This research demonstrates the important access that online higher 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."
The study also found a variety of proof suggesting that some widely-held beliefs concerning online higher education may not be true. For example, researchers noted that even a very small incentive, such as a $500 scholarship, can influence a students' decision concerning which school to enroll in. In addition, the campus itself has an influence over the overall decision, with 75% of students visiting their campus at least once per year. The average age of enrollment for online undergraduate students has also fallen from 34 to 29 since 2012.
With 68% of online college students choosing a school within a month or less, IT and computer science have become the most popular major for graduate students, toppling business, in 2016.
The report also looked into why students are choosing the schools they do and what they are looking for in the programs they would like to participate in. Researchers found that not many students were aware of alternative pathways to an education, such as massive open online courses, micro degrees or bootcamps, with 66% of participants citing "no knowledge" or "minimal knowledge" of these options.
Conducted in the spring of 2016, the survey involved a total of 1,500 individuals. All participants were at least 18 years old, held a high school degree, and recently graduated, were currently enrolled, or were planning to enroll in the next year in a fully online undergraduate or graduate degree, certificate, or licensure program.