A recent survey of online college students conducted and released by Learning House, Aslanian Market Research, and Wiley Education Services shows that online college course popularity continues to rise among all age groups and across all demographics. As one digs deeper, the survey highlights how important online classes have become as students balance school, family, and work, how online classes help students who wish to return to school, and why online students wish to access student services at their school.
A first look at the key takeaways from the survey reveals that:
- An increased percentage of undergraduate students are earning degrees in Arts & Humanities, STEM, and Computers and IT.
- Male students are about three times more likely than females to pursue a degree in STEM, and Computers and IT.
- Female dominated areas like education, teaching, and counseling degree programs experienced slight declines in enrollment.
- Nearly a quarter of undergraduate students last enrolled in a degree program 5+ years ago. That number rises to nearly 70% when looking at students last enrolled 1-5 years ago.
- 87% of students previously earned college credits at one or two other higher education organizations.
- Slightly over half of online students combined both online and classroom courses to earn credits toward a degree.
- 71% of online learners attended full time while 59% of students work full time. Another 18% work part time, which highlights the need for degree and program flexibility.
Online College Students Consider Careers, Course Flexibility and Cost
A number of other intriguing trends emerged from the study, several of which provide keys to the reasons students choose a certain school or method of delivery over another.
- Starting a new career and getting a first job are still the main reasons students want to earn a college degree. They understand their lifetime income potential rises once they have a degree.
- Despite the fact that online learning can happen anytime, anywhere, most of those surveyed are enrolled at a school that is 50 miles or fewer from where they live. This speaks to the notion that the ability to access campus personnel and services is moving into the ‘vital’ range.
- Students first decide on a field of study, then the method of delivery (online, on-site, or hybrid). Students choose to adapt to delivery method in order to obtain the content they need.
- A typical student reaches a final decision, between two schools that have their preferred program first, followed by their preferred method of delivery.
- Not surprisingly, 63% liked online college classes because they offered true flexibility in work and life balance. Online classes boost the ability to complete a degree and advance a career goal in the most effective way possible.
- The cost of college classes remains a major factor in deciding which school to attend, followed by school and program reputations. This highlights the need for transparent and careful financial planning for students as they shop.
- Consistent with the desire to engage in online learning, a school’s online peer reviews and college rankings are the largest factor students consider when deciding which college to apply to. Email campaigns, online ads, and social media performed as minor factors.
- A majority of online college students apply to a school within four weeks of starting their online search for a desired degree program, validating the idea that they know what they want and are ready to engage.
Online College Students Look for Convenience, Services and Soft Skills
While college students are price-sensitive, many of those surveyed said a degree program’s convenience, format and schedule are nearly as important when selecting their institution. Which raises the question, how can colleges and universities beef up their convenience and service factors, especially as applied to online learning? The survey makes several recommendations in answer to this question.
- Offering free textbooks, a free course and the opportunity to win an annual scholarship (even as low as $500) can impact an online college student’s choice of where to earn a degree.
- Of the students who work full time and attend school, the majority of them indicated their employer does not offer tuition reimbursement. Schools who pursue partnerships with local employers to offer tuition discounts benefits all parties.
- Online college students below the age of 45 are more likely to use a mobile device to do online classes, while students 46 and older would not want to use a mobile device to do classes online. This diversity means online learning platforms need to perform well on both mobile and desktop iterations to meet student needs.
- According to students surveyed, taking classes online helps develop critical soft skills, such as critical thinking, time and money management and better writing skills. These skills are vital in most work environments and should be identified as value- adds to online programs.
- Most of the online college students who answered the survey said they used their college career center services or planned to do so upon graduation. This type of service plays an increasing role because online students are living closer to their college or university.
- Further, working with a career advisor and using a college’s career services are the top reasons students interact with their career center. This demonstrates that playing up career services for online students is seen as valuable.
- After graduating from their alma mater, a somewhat surprising number of students surveyed said they would continue to take classes in the future, use their career service centers and refer prospective students to their school, indicating growing brand loyalty.
The good news is that 84% of online college students feel their online education was worth the cost and overall, the quality of online classes continues to improve, as 50% felt their online classes were better than face-to-face instruction. Growth in these two areas demonstrates that online education has grown as a product, with healthy competition among programs providing greater value to online course work and degrees.
If you’re reading this blog, you likely already know that StraighterLine provides an exceptional value in terms of saving both time and money. As this survey shows, online college courses are increasingly popular due to price, convenience, and quality of learning.
StraighterLine is at the forefront of online learning, with affordable, self-paced, high-quality online courses. Curious? Sign up for a StraighterLine free trial today and see for yourself how to get a college degree faster, in less time, with less cost.