Fifth annual survey finds that online students are getting younger and increasingly career focused

April 16, 2019, SEATTLE - BestColleges, a leading provider of independent college rankings, planning resources, and higher education research, today announced the release of its fifth annual Online Education Trends Report. This year's report includes candid feedback from more than 450 school administrators and 1,500 students and analyzes year-over-year data to uncover shifting trends in online education. Most notably, BestColleges' year-over-year research reveals steadily increasing motivation relating to career and employment goals among online students. This year, 69 percent of online students identified employment as their primary goal for entering a program.

In addition to illustrating student motivations, the survey results also indicate that the "typical" online student is increasingly difficult to define. Age, location, support needs, and other student demographics are shifting and becoming more diverse as online programming becomes more mainstream and accessible. As students with a wider range of characteristics enter online learning programs, the need for targeted support for both students and faculty is expected to increase.

The 2019 Online Education Trends Report includes data-driven insight into some of the most important topics in higher education from BestColleges' online education advisor Dr. Melissa Venable. Key takeaways and predictions are presented throughout the report and organized into three primary categories: top trends, marketing and recruitment, and program design and development. Within the context of these categories, the report outlines some of the greatest online education challenges faced by students and school administrators.

Predictably, cost and financial concerns continue to be students biggest challenges when choosing an online program. As in previous surveys, students identified the top two most challenging aspects of making decisions about online education as "estimating annual costs" and "applying for financial aid and identifying sufficient funding sources." Sixty-eight percent of school administrators reported that marketing and meeting recruitment goals are currently their biggest challenge when offering new online programs.

Despite the current online education challenges faced by students and administrators, demand for online education has remained steady, with 99 percent of schools reporting that demand has either increased or remained the same over the past several years.

"As online education becomes more widely accessible, it's important to evaluate the latest trends in online learning and measure their impact on students and academic institutions over time," said Stephanie Snider, director of BestColleges. "By analyzing the experiences and perspectives of students and administrators, we can gain a holistic sense of the current state of online education and make informed decisions about the creation of new online learning programs and opportunities."

Trends in Online Education

  • Career goals continue to drive enrollment decisions. This year, 69% of online students identified employment as their primary goal for entering a program.
  • The "typical" online student is increasingly harder to define. Demographic shifts are reported related to the ages, locations, and support needs of new online students.
  • The college campus is increasingly part of the online experience. And vice-versa as online courses become more popular among on-campus students. 46% of online students say they visit campus, either by choice or because of a requirement.

Online Program Marketing and Recruitment

  • Financial considerations interfere with students' college decisions. For three years in a row, estimating actual costs and finding financial aid topped their list of challenges.
  • New online programs bring benefits and challenges. 70% of administrators say they launch new programs with enrollment growth in mind while meeting marketing and recruiting goals is their top concern.
  • Student perceptions of online learning quality and value are high. This year 77% said it is better than or equal to on-campus options, and 88% say their degrees have or will have a positive ROI.

Online Program Design and Development

  • Demand for online learning remains steady. Almost all (99%) of school administrators say that demand is either increasing or has stayed the same.
  • Keeping pace with student needs will be an upcoming challenge. As online students include a wider range of student characteristics, the need for targeted support for both students and faculty will increase.
  • Life happens in online education. This year, 20% of online alumni said unexpected personal events were a major roadblock to graduation. Almost 40% of administrators also identified this as their current students' biggest challenge, which has implications for support services, student tracking and intervention, and faculty development.

To view all the findings from the 2019 Online Education Trends Report, click here.

About BestColleges

BestColleges empowers students to make smarter educational decisions and find schools that best fit their needs through proprietary research, user-friendly guides, and hundreds of unique college rankings. As a trusted education advisor, they also provide a wide array of college planning, financial aid, and career resources to help students realize life goals and overcome educational challenges as they prepare for careers after college.