U.S. Distance Education Adoption by the Numbers: an IPEDS Reality Check

This is the first of a series of posts providing insight on data regarding enrollments in distance education that was released by the U.S. Department of Education earlier this year.  Terri Straut crunched the data for WCET.  Terri has a deep knowledge of the distance education world and we appreciate her thorough analysis. As noted below, Phil Hill of the e-Literate blog has published several articles on this issue.  We communicated with him to make sure that our work was complementary with his and followed the same methodology.
Russ Poulin, WCET

We’ve all heard the hype about online learning and how it is challenging and changing our models in higher education. As a long-time member of this industry, I was excited to dig in when new data was released in early January from the United States Department of Education’s National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES).   For the first time in many years, the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) Fall Enrollment survey included counts of students taking Distance Education courses in Fall 2012.mix of words related to educational data

With this data, we can finally get a comprehensive, objective look at the current state of distance education adoption nationally. The new data shows that one in four (26%) students enrolled in at least one distance education course in the Fall of 2012. That’s 5.4 million student enrollments, an impressive level of adoption, but it hardly lives up to the hype that often suggests that technology is totally changing the way teaching and learning are conducted in higher education. Since the IPEDS data uses the term Distance Education (DE) that is the term we will use.

The Methodology (and Thanks to Phil Hill)
Analysis of the IPEDS data was conducted on all degree granting institutions in the U.S. This presents 4,726 institutions of higher education (IHE) in total, both 4-year and 2-year colleges. This data set matches the data set that Phil Hill, edtech author and blogger at e-Literate, has used in his recent blogs that analyze the new DE data. According to Phil, the data set also matches the historical data reported by the Babson Survey Research Group (BSRG)/Sloan-C/Pearson survey. In order to approximate the same measures used by the prior survey, the data fields, “enrolled exclusively in DE courses” and “enrolled in some but not all DE courses” were combined to match the Babson category “enrolled in at least one online course”. Phil previously published the data on DE enrollments for public institutions. Huge thanks to Phil for his early analysis of the newly available data and for his collaboration with the BSRG to ensure that the two data sets can be compared appropriately. Phil has also done a fine job of illuminating the differences in the data and definitions used.

Adoption of Distance Education
In this analysis for WCET, I looked at all of the DE data fields for all degree-granting institutions in the U.S. We did not differentiate between undergraduate and graduate course enrollments in this data analysis. Data on the adoption of distance education is reported by state in the table below. States are ranked by the data field % at least one DE course to provide comparisons to previous Babson data and Phil’s analysis of public institutions published in e-Literate. Note that the % at least one DE course column is the sum of the % of exclusively DE courses and % at least one DE course columns. The data for the District of Colombia is also reported since it was reported in the IPEDS data.

Percentage of Students Taking at Least One Distance Education Course,
All Degree-granting Institutions,
By State and Ranked by Highest Percentage

 Rank

State

% exclusively DE courses

% some but not all DE courses

TABLE SORTED BY:
% at least one DE course

% no DE courses

Total Enrollments

1 AZ

49%

17%

66%

34%

 736,379

2 WV

41%

12%

52%

48%

 162,179

3 IA

40%

9%

49%

51%

 361,183

4 MN

26%

13%

39%

61%

 451,661

5 ND

23%

16%

39%

61%

 55,169

6 ID

13%

24%

37%

63%

 108,008

7 UT

23%

13%

36%

64%

 267,309

8 FL

17%

18%

35%

65%

 1,154,929

9 VA

19%

16%

35%

65%

 588,696

10 SD

21%

14%

35%

65%

 56,058

11 AL

16%

19%

35%

65%

 310,311

12 AK

17%

18%

35%

65%

 32,797

13 NC

12%

22%

33%

67%

 578,031

14 NE

17%

16%

33%

67%

 139,578

15 KY

20%

11%

31%

69%

 282,125

16 KS

16%

16%

31%

69%

 213,786

17 OK

11%

20%

31%

69%

 228,464

18 NM

13%

18%

31%

69%

 156,424

19 NV

10%

20%

30%

70%

 118,300

20 CO

20%

10%

30%

70%

 367,055

21 AR

9%

20%

29%

71%

 176,458

22 WY

11%

18%

29%

71%

 37,812

23 MO

12%

15%

28%

72%

 441,371

24 ME

14%

13%

27%

73%

 72,810

25 HI

11%

16%

27%

73%

 78,456

26 IN

11%

15%

26%

74%

 447,262

27 MD

15%

11%

26%

74%

 379,032

28 MS

9%

16%

26%

74%

 176,665

29 TX

9%

17%

26%

74%

 1,540,298

30 GA

10%

15%

25%

75%

 545,358

31 OH

10%

14%

24%

76%

 709,818

32 NH

18%

6%

24%

76%

 82,678

33 TN

6%

18%

24%

76%

 343,641

34 OR

9%

14%

23%

77%

 254,695

35 SC

6%

16%

22%

78%

 259,617

36 PA

8%

14%

22%

78%

 777,242

37 WI

8%

13%

21%

79%

 369,732

38 MT

6%

14%

21%

79%

 53,254

39 IL

10%

10%

20%

80%

 867,110

40 VT

10%

9%

19%

81%

 44,703

41 NJ

8%

11%

19%

81%

 439,965

42 WA

8%

11%

18%

82%

 365,514

43 MI

7%

11%

18%

82%

 663,825

44 CA

6%

11%

17%

83%

 2,621,460

45 DE

7%

10%

17%

83%

 58,128

46 LA

4%

12%

16%

84%

 258,825

47 NY

6%

9%

16%

84%

 1,315,590

48 CT

7%

7%

15%

85%

 202,625

49 MA

6%

8%

14%

86%

 516,331

50 RI

2%

10%

12%

88%

 83,952

51 DC 8%

3%

11%

89%

 90,150

Totals

 

13%

 

14%

 

26%

 

74%

 

 20,642,819

 

In interpreting the data, the percentage is of all students enrolled in institutions located in that state, NOT of all students resident in that state.  Take Arizona as an example.  The 49% of student who are “enrolled exclusively in DE courses” takes into account the large number of students that are enrolled at institutions (i.e., Arizona State University, Grand Canyon University, University of Phoenix) located in that state.  It does NOT mean that 49% of higher education students in the state of Arizona are “enrolled exclusively in DE courses.”

Overall, about one in four degree-seeking students (5.4 million) in the U.S. in Fall 2012 had some experience with distance education courses. Enrollment in DE courses (at least one DE course) represents 26% of all student enrollments for the period in U.S. degree-granting institutions. The definition of “at least one DE course” is admittedly a broad category, ranging from a student taking just one online course to those who have taken the majority, but not all, of their courses at a distance. But it is data that we can now track annually through IPEDS to quantify adoption and analyze trends.

A few key findings:

  • The top 10 ranked states represent nearly a third (31%) of all DE enrollments.
  • The level of student participation in at least one DE course varies significantly by state.
  • The states with the highest participation in DE courses are Arizona 66%, West Virginia 52%, and Iowa 49% of total enrollments.
  • Reporting for enrollment exclusively in DE courses reveal the same three states leading Arizona 49%, West Virginia 41% and Iowa 40% of enrollments.  Those states are the home to large distance education providers:  Arizona (Arizona State University, Argosy University-Phoenix Campus, Grand Canyon University, Rio Salado College, and the University of Phoenix), West Virginia (American Public University System), and Iowa (Ashford University and Kaplan University).
  • The states with the lowest reported participation in DE courses are Rhode Island 12%, Massachusetts 14%, and Connecticut at 15%.
  • There is a much broader spread in the category of exclusive DE enrollment, with Rhode Island representing the lowest fully DE enrollment percentage at 2%, followed by Louisiana at 4%, and several states (California, Massachusetts, Montana, New York, South Carolina, and Tennessee) at 6% of total enrollment.

While there has been a lot of focus on fully online programs, the data shows that only about 13% of degree-seeking students in the U.S. were engaged exclusively in DE programs. It is also noteworthy that 74% of all U.S. students did not have a DE component, according to the IPEDS data. However, the data reveals large differences by state.

It is also important to remember that this reporting represents a combination of graduate and undergraduate DE courses, which may obscure much stronger adoption of fully online graduate programs. In fact, Richard Garrett’s reporting in University World News indicates, “close to one-third of U.S. graduate students are currently studying exclusively or majority online.” He also provides interesting analysis regarding the market concentration of the largest wholly DE institutions.

In addition to DE adoption by state, the WCET IPEDS data analysis looked at where the DE students are located in relation to the institutions that serve them. These numbers have implications for institutions in understanding their market scope, the need to provide student support services across a wide geographic range, and the state authorization policy issue.  The next blog post will report those findings.Terri_Straut

Terri Straut
Ascension Consulting
terri_straut@msn.com

 

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3 Trackbacks

  1. […] be able to track these adoption trends going forward.  As reported in the first blog in the series U.S. Distance Education Adoption by the Numbers: an IPEDS Reality Check, when combining the counts of students who took all their courses at a distance and those who […]

  2. […] by the U.S. Department of Education’s IPEDS survey on distance education (DE) enrollments. Our first blog post in this series looked at students enrolled exclusively or partially in distance education courses.  Our second […]

  3. […] « U.S. Distance Education Adoption by the Numbers: an IPEDS Reality Check […]

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