The National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) and its Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) provide the most official data on colleges and universities in the United States. This is the sixth year of data on distance education enrollments, and we have an opportunity to view trends over time.
Let’s look at the top 30 online programs for Fall 2017 (in terms of total number of students taking at least one online course for grad and undergrad levels combined) in the US. Some notes on the data:
- The first view combines the categories ‘students exclusively taking distance education courses’ and ‘students taking some but not all distance education courses’ to obtain the ‘at least one online course’ category; the second view shows just the ‘students exclusively taking distance education courses’.
- Note that IPEDS captures distance education enrollment data based on Fall 20xx reports using a census date of October 15; this approach does not fully capture programs with multiple start dates throughout the year.
- IPEDS tracks data based on the accredited body, which can differ for systems – this data has combined most for-profit systems into one institution entity as well as Arizona State University and a handful of not-for-profit systems that operate as one entity.
- There is a new column this year showing changes in enrollment in each case between Fall 2012 and Fall 2017 data.
- Both views highlight for-profit institutions in yellow and added sparklines to help visualize trends. There has been a wave of for-profits converting in one form or another of not-for-profit institutions (e.g. Grand Canyon University, Kaplan / Purdue Global), but these conversions for the most part had not taken place as of the Fall 2017 reporting period.
- There is another new column this year showing which LMS is currently in usage at each of the schools listed, and in cases where there is a transition in 2018, both systems are shown with a direction > sign.
- See this post for Fall 2017 profile by sector and state.
Looking at the case where students exclusively take online courses in a distance education (DE) mode, we see some differences in the list with a greater concentration of for-profit schools.
Finally, it's worth looking at the top 30 trend over time. Obviously the University of Phoenix is no longer the 800 pound gorilla in distance education, with two not-for-profits - Western Governors University and Southern New Hampshire University - poised to overtake Phoenix in the next year or two. This view also shows the tendency for most institutions to top out at approximately 60,000 students, but this may be changing with the three counter-examples above as well as Grand Canyon University.
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