In 2015 — not that long ago, really — the Online Learning Consortium published a report where they found that online enrollments continued to outpace overall higher education enrollments. At that point, distance education students had increased 3.9 percent, up from 3.7 percent the previous year. More than one in four students took at least one online course — a total of almost 5.9 million students in all.
Where are all these students going?
Public institutions, the group reports, carry the bulk — 72.7 percent of all undergraduate and 38.7 percent of all graduate level distance students. And 71.4 percent of academic leaders rate the learning outcomes of online education as the same or superior to face-to-face instruction.
This study was cited by BestColleges.com this year, with an additional interpretation: not only are online enrollments increasing, students are presented with more choices from more universities, and so the competition for these students is also increasing.
Best colleges surveyed 1,500 students online, and what they found is probably unsurprising. For one, 72 percent of online students attest that jobs and employment is the reason they enrolled — this includes 36 percent who are transitioning to a new career field and 32 percent who want to earn credentials in their current field. The students main concern? Cost.
Of the more than 300 school administrators surveyed, 98 percent have seen the demand for online courses grow or at least stay the same. Yet, a full 60 percent don’t intend to change their online program development budget. The biggest challenge they have found is in marketing to students and meeting recruitment goals.
There are many reasons students are motivated to enroll in an online program. What BestColleges.com found in a survey is enlightening. Career changers with some college and job experience make up the largest number of online students at 36 percent. The next biggest, 32 percent, are also older students who see college as a way to move forward in their current field. By comparison, only 7 percent are 18 to 24 year olds focused on academic studies.
Most of the students, in short, are interested in online learning in relation to career.
The way these prospective students learn about the colleges should come as no surprise: online research. Of the top methods to research online schools, 38 percent read online student reviews and 36 percent researched the college website. By comparison, only 20 percent visited campus.
This is all information that can be used to craft a marketing campaign. Consider, too, the challenges students encounter when choosing online education — or not. Estimating costs is the number one answer, followed by applying for financial aid and finding funding sources.
Here’s what BestColleges.com suggests universities should do to accommodate prospective online students:
- Maintain a detailed website.
- Partner with professional organizations to increase the visibility of your program.
- Provide easy access to information, whether it be funding, transfer credits, and employment resources.
- Remember that a full 50 percent of online students choose online programs not merely for “convenience” or “flexibility,” but because they have existing work and family commitments that don’t allow for traditional classroom attendance. (Naturally, as they suggest, “Schools should capitalize on this information when they are deciding how to market their online programs.” )
Capture Higher Ed can help with online enrollments. And, with 74 percent of surveyed school administrators saying there is an increased demand for online courses, that help is necessary.
By Sean Hill, Senior Content Writer, Capture Higher Ed