Online Education Continues its Rapid Growth, Study Finds

The 2010 Sloan Survey of Online Learning reveals that online enrollment rose by almost one million students – the largest ever year-to-year increase since the study began eight years ago.

The survey of more than 2,500 colleges and universities nationwide finds approximately 5.6 million students were enrolled in at least one online course in Fall 2009, the most recent term for which figures are available.

Released earlier this month by Sloan Consortium and the Babson Survey Research Group, findings from the survey include:

  • Sixty-three percent of all reporting institutions said that online learning was a critical part of their institution’s long term strategy, a small increase from fifty-nine percent in 2009.
  • The 21 percent growth rate for online enrollments far exceeds the 2 percent growth in the overall higher education student population.
  • Nearly one-half of institutions report that the economic downturn has increased demand for face-to-face courses and programs.
  • Three-quarters of institutions report that the economic downturn has increased demand for online courses and programs.
  • Nearly 30 percent of higher education students now take at least one online course.
  • More than three-quarters of academic leaders at public institutions report that online is as good as or better than face-to-face instruction (compared to only 55.4% of private nonprofits and 67.0% of for-profits).
  • Virtually all recent growth in online enrollments has come from the growth of existing offerings, not from institutions new to online education starting new programs.

The complete survey report, “Class Differences: Online Education in the United States, 2010” can be downloaded from the Sloan Consortium website here. The report includes a detailed analysis of the factors driving the growth in online education.