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Online Degree Courses Lose Momentum

As technology evolves, colleges and universities have found the need to adapt to an ever-changing environment over the past decade. Some changes have been more gradual, such as the incorporation (and removal) of degree programs in order to accommodate an increasingly skill-focused job market. Other changes were rapid, such as online courses and online degrees, which many schools quickly implemented into their curriculum.

The 2013 Survey of Online Learning Report revealed that 7.1 million students are taking at least one online course, an immense increase of about 5.5 million from their initial survey in 2002. When compared to last year, however, there is only a 6.1 percent growth rate, the lowest in a decade.

At Higher Ed Growth, we examined our data to compare online degree enrollments and traditional campus degree enrollments over the past two years. In 2012, 49 percent of all student enrollments were in campus degrees, while 51 percent were online degree enrollments. This even distribution was capsized in 2013, as 59 percent of students enrolled in campus degrees and 41 percent enrolled in online degree programs. This ten percent shift in both degree types suggests, like the Online Learning Report, that there is a major change happening in student participation in online courses.

Online classes provide flexibility that traditional classes cannot rival, and most studies agree that both methods of learning produce the same student performance results. So why are we seeing a decline in the growth of online degree enrollments? The answer to this may be in Higher Ed Growth’s recent report that shows healthcare and medical degree enrollments are on the rise. While students in general perform equally well in online and campus classes, some courses prove to be easier in a face-to-face classroom environment, such as nursing and medical assisting.

Our report also shows that business degrees, which are one of the most popular online degree programs, have decreased over the past few years. The change in the types of degrees students are pursuing may be one of the major reasons online enrollment growth is decreasing, and this growth will most likely continue to plateau as the educational environment shifts.

Frank Healy is president and CEO of Higher Ed Growth, a full-service marketing agency specializing in post-secondary education. Visit www.higheredgrowth.com for more information.