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Online education is one of the largest and fastest growing segments of higher education. Five million online learners are projected to be working towards a degree in the U.S. by 2020. With such a large segment of the student population endeavoring to take some if not all their courses online, it has become vital that colleges and universities understand and embrace the unique set of preferences and needs presented by this learning group.
Since 2012, The Learning House, Inc. and Aslanian Market Research have conducted an annual survey of 1,500 online college students. The goal of these annual Online College Students studies is to help institutions better understand how to serve this specific student population.
The findings contained in their recent study, “Online College Students 2016: Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences,” show an increasing demand for distance learning in higher education at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Summarized herein are some interesting facts and findings from the 2016 study.
- An increasing number of students prefer online education. Quality and satisfaction with online classes continues to remain high, with 90% of survey respondents indicating they felt the online class experience was the same or better than their on-ground class experiences. Half of online college students say they definitely would not, probably would not, or are not sure if they would have attended their current program if it were not offered online.
- Online students are cost sensitive. Tuition remains the driving factor for students when choosing their online classes. Students have seen a decrease in employer-provided tuition assistance, and 44% of students are using personal funds in combination with grants and loans to finance their education.
- Mobile is widespread throughout the admissions and education process. More than 95% of online students own a mobile device. Phones and tablets are utilized during the college selection process — 51% of enrolled students conducted at least some of their research via a mobile device — as well as for participating in class and completing assignments. Once enrolled, 67% desire to complete at least some of their online learning on a mobile device, with 59% completing at least some of their courses online.
- The online student demographic is changing. During the last five years, the average age of the online college undergraduate student has decreased from 34 in 2012 to 29 in 2016. Online graduate students’ average age decreased from 35 in 2012 to 33 in 2016. Online learners are likely to be single and have fewer children. They’re also earning less income; since 2013, the percentage of graduate students earning less than $25,000 has more than doubled.
- Online students prefer a nearby campus.Nearly 75% of students report that, because they’re likely to visit the school campus while enrolled, they selected online courses from a school whose campus is within 100 miles of their home and their campus.
- There are many paths to a degree. Many online undergrad students have previously earned credits from colleges and universities. They are seeking for these credits to be accepted when enrolling in online courses. Many are also interested in receiving credits based on their life experiences.