Over Six Million Students Now Enrolled in Online Education

The graph shows the year to year change in distance education enrollments for public, private non-profit, and private for-profit schools. Source: Digital Learning Compass by Babson Survey Research Group, e-Literate, and WCET. 

The graph shows the year to year change in distance education enrollments for public, private non-profit, and private for-profit schools. Source: Digital Learning Compass by Babson Survey Research Group, e-Literate, and WCET. 

While overall enrollment in higher education has fallen since 2012, distance education growth continues, a new report shows. The report examines the trends and patterns of distance education enrollments among U.S. degree-granting higher education institutions. 

The report titled “Digital Learning Compass: Distance Education Enrollment Report 2017,” conducted by the Digital Learning Compass organization, reveals that in 2015, more than six million students — nearly 30 percent of college students — took at least one course online. 

“The overall higher education environment is changing,” said Jill Buban, PhD, senior director of research and innovation for the Online Learning Consortium, in a press release. “The total pool of postsecondary students has been shrinking for each of the last three years. At the same time, the demographics are shifting to a student community primarily comprised of adult and other contemporary learners, for whom distance learning often provides the best path to a post-secondary education. As schools compete for students in this environment, distance learning programs become essential to their ability to succeed.”

Some of the key findings of the report:

  • The number of students studying on a campus has dropped by almost one million (931,317) between 2012 and 2015.
  • Of the total 6 million distance education students, 2.9 million are taking all of their courses at a distance and 3.1 million taking some, but not all, distance courses.
  • More than 1 in 4 students (29.7 percent) now take at least one distance education course (a total of 6,022,105 students).
  • A year-to-year increase of 226,375 distance education students, a 3.9 percent increase, up over rates recorded the previous two years.
  • Public institutions command the largest portion of distance education students, with 67.8 percent of all distance students.

For more information, go to the full report