Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) released the third year of Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) data that reports Distance Education (DE) student enrollment for the Fall of 2014. This is the third consecutive year that IPEDS included the enrollments for Distance Education and that WCET has reported on the yearly counts and the year-to-year trends.
For the third year, I am pleased to be working with Terri Taylor Straut who is contracting with WCET to compile the data and perform the analyses with me. This blog post gives you a few highlights of what we have uncovered so far. Early in the new year, we will provide you with data tables and graphics on the most interesting statistics. We will follow that (probably in February) with a deeper dive into the context and interpretations of some data items. For example, we will follow-up with select institutions to see if they still are experiencing some of the problems submitting the IPEDS data as we reported two years ago.
Meanwhile, here is a little Christmas present for the data geeks out there. Analysis of the sector data reveals that many of the trends we identified in the 2013 data earlier this year continue with the 2014 data. Below are initial observations from Terri.
Russ Poulin, Director Policy & Analysis, WCET
Distance Education Enrollments Continue to Grow, But Vary Greatly by Sector
Enrollments by students Exclusively in Distance Education continued to rise in 2014. There were 2,824,334 fully online enrollments in 2014, compared to 2,659,203 in 2013, representing a 6% increase in just one year. Last year, one-out-of-eight of all higher education students were enrolled exclusively in distance education. In 2014, it is now closer to one-in seven students being enrolled exclusively at a distance.
DE Enrollments Continue to Grow While Overall Enrollments are Declining
As we noted in our blog about the 2013 data, the distance education growth is in the context of a slight decline in overall enrollments, as reported to IPEDS. This trend continued in 2014. Total enrollments were reported at 20,207,369 in 2014 for all U.S. degree-granting institutions with 2 year or higher degree-granting programs. This represents a small decrease (-0.8%) from 2013 enrollments of 20,375,789. Looking over the three years of reported data, enrollment is down 2.2% from a high in 2012 of 20,642,819.
Distance Education enrollments continued to rise in all categories, during this time of total enrollment decline. Fully Distance Education enrollments are growing at the greatest rate 6.6% in two years and enrollment in ‘Some but not all Distance Education’ grew at 4.1% over the reporting period of 2012 to 2014.
For-profit Institutions Enroll Less Than a Third of All Exclusively DE Students
Enrollment exclusively in Distance Education continues to vary by sector and the trends we identified in 2013 are also evident in the 2014 data. Public institutions represent 49% of all enrollments with 1,381,897; Private For-Profit institutions represent 30% of enrollments with 838,219; and the Private Non-Profit sector remains the smallest with 604,218 enrollments or 21% of fully online enrollments.
Public and Private, Non-Profit Institutions Enrolling More DE Students
Now that we have three years of IPEDS data for Distance Education, we can begin to look at trends with more confidence. Comparing 2014 Exclusively DE enrollments to the same sector data from 2012, reveals interesting trends.
Private Non-Profit institutions continue to grow their exclusively DE enrollments at the highest rate, 22% in two years. Public institutions are also growing DE enrollments, but at a lower rate, 9%. However For-Profit institutions have seen an 11% decline in DE enrollments over the same two year period. The average growth in the two year period for all sectors is 6%.
Institutions Continue to Report That They Don’t Know Where Some of Their Students Are Located
While much of the data represents good news for distance education, there is one troubling trend revealed in our initial analysis, institutions continue to report that they don’t know where some of their students are located. In fact, there is approximately a 5% increase between 2013 and 2014 in Exclusively Distance Education enrollments in the U.S., State Unknown (4.5%) and 5.3% reported Location of Student Unknown/Not Reported.
We have previously reported concerns with the reporting methodology used by many institutions when reporting their DE enrollments to IPEDS, but the IPEDS data is currently the best source or enrollment data. It is possible that the 2014 data is more accurate, as institutions have had more time to refine their reporting.
We will explore this issue, other issues behind the data, and additional statistical analyses when we conduct deeper research early in 2016.
Merry Christmas. Happy holidays. Happy New Year.
Terri Taylor Straut
With help from….
Director, Policy and Analysis
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