New Babson Report Details Changes in Online Education Landscape
Distance and online education continue to be the bright spots in higher education enrollment, but the nature of this type of study has evolved from an “any time, any place” model touted at distance education’s beginning to a more localized model. “Grade Increase: Tracking Distance Education in the United States” is a new report from the Babson Survey Research Group that demonstrates the changes in distance and online learning over time.
Higher education enrollment is in a decline and has been since 2012, but the rate of decline has slowed when looking at the most recent year in the study (2016). The loss is not even, however. Comparing 2016 to 2015, the data shows that private for-profit institutions account for all of the loss, with private non-profit and public institutions partially offsetting the decline with slight increases.
Distance education continues to be a bright spot for higher education. Nearly a third of all students take at least one distance education course, and slightly under 15 percent study exclusively online. Most of these students (almost 70 percent) study at public institutions.
Looking at patterns of growth between 2012 and 2016 shows that private for-profit institutions are losing their hold on the distance education sector. Over that period of time, private for-profit institutions saw a decrease in distance enrollments of over 21 percent, while private non-profit saw 50 percent growth and public institutions grew nearly 22 percent.
However, the data shows that the initial distance education dreams of every campus becoming a global one have not been realized in quite the way people may have imagined. Over half of the students who took a distance course also took at least one course on campus, and the majority of the students who took distance courses are located in the same state as their institution of higher education. “Distance education is becoming more localized over time: the proportion of students taking exclusively distance courses who are located in the same state as the institution offering the courses has increased every year” between 2012 and 2016, the report states. Again, this finding showed an imbalance in institution type, as over 84 percent of students studying at a public institution resided in the same state, while just over 16 percent of students at private for-profit institutions did so.
Additionally, US higher education is not a magnet for great numbers of international students studying at a distance. Less than one percent of all distance education students at US institutions are located outside the country. Only seven US institutions enroll more than a thousand distance students studying from outside the country, and only a single institution—Brigham Young University-Idaho—enrolls more than 5,000 of these students.
Concentration of distance students in a small pool of institutions is not limited to students studying from outside the US. “Almost half of distance education students are accounted for in just five percent of institutions,” the report finds. Further, “the top 47 institutions, representing only one percent of all institutions, enroll 22.4 percent of all distance students,” and “a mere 10 institutions account for over 10 percent of all distance education enrollments, yet represent only 0.21 percent of higher education institutions.”
Distance education has been part of the decline in students attending class on campus. “Among all students taking distance education courses, just under one-half are taking only distance courses,” the report finds. Half of these students are at public institutions, with the rest divided evenly between non-profit and for-profit. “There are now fewer students studying on campus than at any point since 2012. The growth in the number of students taking only distance courses, coupled with the overall decline in the overall number of students enrolled, means that there are now over a million fewer students coming to campus in 2016 than there was in 2012,” the report notes. The biggest decline in students studying on campus came, not surprisingly, from private for-profit institutions.
Overall, the landscape of distance education continues to evolve. This report from Babson Survey Research Group details just how this evolution is taking place.
This summary is published with the permission of Jeff Seaman and the Babson Survey Research Group. The complete report is available here: https://www.onlinelearningsurvey.com/highered.html
Jennifer Patterson Lorenzetti, MS, is the editor of Academic Leader and the chair of the Leadership in Higher Education Conference. She is the author of Lecture Is Not Dead: Ten Tips for Delivering Dynamic Lectures in the College Classroom and The Care and Motivation of the Adjunct Professor.
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