Online Education Facts: Online Learning Growing Ten Times Faster Than Industry

The economic downturn is driving rapid acceptance of online education, with total online enrollments growing by nearly one million students between 2008 and 2009, according to new research from the Sloan Consortium.

Outlining several new education facts and trends, the survey of 2,500 educational institutions found that the amount of students enrolled in online education grew by 21 percent in 2009, far faster than the increase in overall higher education enrollment, which grew by less than two percent during the same period.

“This represents the largest every year-to-year increase in the number of students studying online,” said Elaine Allen, co-director of the Babson Survey Research Group and professor of statistics and entrepreneurship at Babson College. “Nearly thirty percent of all college and university students now take at least one course online.”

The report notes that in fall 2003, slightly less than ten percent of all higher education students were enrolled in online education, amounting to a compound annual growth rate of 19 percent since 2002.

Online Education Facts and the Economy

This rapid growth in online enrollment is due, in part, to the economic downturn, according to the report. Three-quarters of educational institutions disclose that the negative economic impact has driven increased demand for online classes, which in turn, has driven competition between institutions for students.

“While the sluggish economy continues to drive enrollment growth, large public institutions are feeling budget pressure and competition from the for-profit sector institutions,” said Babson.

Despite increased competition, however, the education facts highlighted by the Sloan Consortium indicate that two-thirds of all academic leaders believe online education offers the same or superior quality instruction when compared with face-to-face education.

Opinions of Online Education

According to the online education facts detailed in the report, a relationship exists between the extent of the online offerings of an institution and its opinion of online education, raising the question of whether institutions with a positive opinion of online education are more likely to create and grow online degree programs or whether increased familiarity with online programs drives a more positive attitude.

“What is clear, regardless of the causal order, is that academic leaders at institutions with online offerings have a much more favorable opinion of the learning outcomes in online courses and programs than those at institutions without online offerings,” notes the report. “The more extensive the online offerings are at an institution, the more positive they rate the relative quality of online learning outcomes.”

Other online education facts found in the report indicate that the favorable perception of online education coincides with an increased agreement that online education is critical to the long-term strategy of an educational institution, which 63.1 percent of survey participants agreed with in 2010.

These education facts were drawn from the Sloan Consortium’s “Class Differences: Online Education in the United States, 2010” report, a collaboration between the Babson Survey Research Group and the College Board, funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.