Online Education Trends Report

BestColleges' ninth annual Online Education Trends Report provides the latest online and remote learning experience data with insights from students and school administrators.

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Report Overview

Key Findings

BestColleges' ninth annual Online Education Trends Report tracks current trends through data collected from current, former, and prospective students and school administrators. This report represents our seventh year of original data collection via online surveys, with participation from 1,800 students and 131 school administrators. While we've collected data since 2017, we only include data from the past five years in this report. You can view the reports from 2017 and 2018 on the BestColleges research hub. This year's findings are presented in four categories: the learning experience, marketing and recruitment, student satisfaction, and planning for the future.

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The Learning Experience

  • The desire for convenience when managing existing commitments continues to be the leading motivator for enrolling in an online program, as indicated by more than one-third (42%) of the online students surveyed this year.
  • Parallel online and on-campus degree programs at a given institution may differ in a number of ways, including their tuition and fees, learning objectives, and instructors.
  • Balancing education with work, family, and household obligations continues to be the top concern for online (27%), hybrid (27%), and prospective (39%) students.
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Marketing and Recruitment

  • The biggest challenges students face when making the decision to enroll in an online program continue to be finding a program that meets [their] needs and interests, applying for financial aid and identifying sufficient funding sources, and estimating actual costs.
  • When students search for information about online programs, they rely most on college websites and online student reviews.
  • For the seventh year in a row, the biggest regret of online program graduates is not do[ing] more research about cost and financial aid (30%).
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Student Satisfaction

  • An overwhelming majority of students surveyed said they would recommend online education to others, including 98% of current online students, 96% of online program graduates, and 94% of hybrid students.
  • This year, 96% of all students surveyed said their online degree program has had or will have a positive return on investment, the highest percentage in the history of this report.
  • Fewer students reported being unsure about how online education compares to on-campus learning this year, and three-quarters (75%) said that online is better than or equal to on-campus learning.
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Planning for the Future

  • This year, almost half (47%) of school administrators surveyed said their schools were increasing spending for online programs, up from the previous two years where budgets were largely anticipated to remain steady during the pandemic.
  • Health professions (including nursing) and computer and information science programs are expected to see the most enrollment growth online over the next five years.
  • A little more than one-third (37%) of school administrators surveyed agreed that their institutions are actively researching the possibilities of immersive technologies (e.g., virtual reality, metaverse) for use in their online courses and programs.

Our Research Methodology

We help make sense of the latest trends through our propriety research, data analysis, and expert insights. Our Trends Reports, Survey Reports, and Data Reports explore pressing issues, such as online learning, student demographics, and the rising cost of college.

Meet the Author

Portrait of Melissa A. Venable, Ph.D.

Melissa A. Venable, Ph.D.

Melissa A. Venable, Ph.D., is an online education advisor for BestColleges. In this role, she leads this annual survey research project reporting online education trends found through student and school administrator feedback. Melissa is an adjunct faculty member and course designer at Saint Leo University and a certified career coach with a background in career development services. She earned her doctorate in instructional technology at the University of South Florida where her research interests focused on distance education and support services for online students.

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