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Online Enrollment Up By 17 Percent on College Campuses

January 27, 2010

by Agnes Jasinski

More than one in four college students took at least one online class in the fall of 2008, according to an annual survey released yesterday called "Learning on Demand: Online Education in the United States." Those numbers, which come from the Sloan Consortium and reflect data from thousands of colleges and universities across the country, illustrate a 17 percent increase in the number of students enrolling in online classes since the survey was released last year.

To put things in perspective, the number of students enrolling in higher education overall only grew by 1.2 percent. More than 4.6 million students are enrolled in online courses across the country, compared to 3.9 million the previous year. Less than 10 percent of students were taking classes online in 2002; today that figure is more than 25 percent. The survey did not take a close look at online degree universities, although it would be interesting to see whether distance learning has also seen an increase in applicants who see the benefits of completing their coursework at their own pace. (About 73 percent of fully online universities reported requests from students to offer even more online courses than they already do.)

The Chronicle of Higher Education today describes the survey's data even further, and suggests that despite the increase in online enrollment, many colleges are still not offering a sufficient number of online offerings despite the potential for that strategy to address some schools' budget problems. (According to the report, enrollment numbers in general increase in times of economic crisis.) Public institutions are more likely to offer more online courses, according to the article. At the University of Central Florida, for example, more than half of the student population is taking at least one class online each year.

Other highlights of the report include:

  • More than 80 percent of these students taking online courses are studying at the undergraduate level, with only 14 percent taking graduate level courses and the remainder in some other for-credit course.
  • 54 percent of institutions report that the economic downturn has increased demand for existing face-to-face courses.
  • 66 percent of institutions report increased demand for new courses and programs, and 73 percent report increased demand for existing online courses and programs.
  • Less than one-third of administrators believe that their faculty accept the value and legitimacy of online education. (This has changed little over the last six years.)
  • Nearly 300 institutions with no current online offerings are reporting increased student demand to begin such offerings.

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