Report Finds Distance Learning Growing Even as Higher Education Enrollments Decline

SURVEY SAYS: The Babson Survey Research Group has released a new report, "Online Report Card: Tracking Online Education in the United States" in conjunction with a slew of partners, including Pearson and the Online Learning Consortium. Measuring enrollments from 2013 to 2014, the report found that distance education enrollments grew from 3.7 to 3.9 percent of college students, with 5.8 million students enrolled in online courses in fall 2014, even as overall higher education enrollments declined

The growth, however, was uneven: Private not-for-profit institutions grew by 11.3 percent while private for-profit institutions saw their distance enrollments drop by 2.8 percent. Despite the growth, the number of academic leaders who view online learning as critical to their institutions' strategy made the largest one-year drop ever from 70.8 percent in 2014 to 63.3 percent this year.

Colleges and universities aren't the only ones trying to understand the role of distance education. Nonprofits are taking advantage of digital courses as well. “Clearly many private, non-profit institutions are aggressively investing in distance education, ” said Russell Poulin, WCET's director of policy and analysis. “Between 2012 and 2014, students taking all their courses at a distance grew by 33 percent for non-profits. They were only a few hundred students away from passing the for-profit sector for having the second highes number of enrollments.

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