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Report: 30 percent of all college students take courses online

Online education enrollments increase

A new report from Marketdata Enterprises Inc. finds enrollments in online education programs accounting for 30 percent of all post-secondary education enrollments - a number that is expected to grow. By 2015, the Marketdata study predicts that 37 percent of all post-secondary enrollments will be in online programs.

Specifically, the report notes that in 2010, 6.2 million students were enrolled in online education courses. This number accounts for a nearly 11 percent increase over the 2009 enrollment levels reported on by the Sloan Consortium in the 2010 Sloan Survey of Online Learning, and a nearly 385 percent increase in enrollments from eight years ago. In 2002, the Marketdata study notes, only 1.6 million students were enrolled in online courses.

According to the Sloan survey released last November, U.S. enrollment in online education has increased by almost one million students from a year earlier.

"This represents the largest ever year-to-year increase in the number of students studying online," I. Elaine Allen, co-director of the Babson Survey Research Group and professor of statistics and entrepreneurship at Babson College, said in a statement.

The eighth annual Sloan survey of more than 2,500 colleges found a number of key findings:

  • Almost two thirds of for-profit institutions now say online learning is a critical part of their long term strategy
  • Sixty-seven percent of academic leaders rate the learning outcomes in online education as the same or superior to those in face-to-face education
  • The 21 percent growth rate for online enrollments far exceeds the 2 percent growth in the overall higher education student population
  • Three quarters of institutions report that the economic downturn has increased demand for online courses and programs

Still, Allen said, there may be some clouds on the horizon. "While the sluggish economy continues to drive enrollment growth, large public institutions are feeling budget pressure and competition from the for-profit sector institutions," she notes. "In addition, the for-profit schools worry new federal rules on financial aid and student recruiting may have a negative impact on enrollments."

The survey, a collaborative effort between the Babson Survey Research Group and the College Board, is funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and distributed by the Sloan Consortium.