Key Findings

BestColleges’ seventh annual Online Education Trends Report offers insights developed by analyzing feedback provided by students and school administrators. This report includes our fifth year of original data collection and features participation from 366 school administrators and 1,800 students. Students surveyed include prospective online students, current online students (i.e., those enrolled in fully online programs), current remote learners (i.e., those enrolled in courses not offered in person due to COVID-19), and online program alumni. Findings are presented in four categories: the learning experience, marketing and recruitment, program design and administration, and student satisfaction.

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The Learning Experience

  • Paying for college while minimizing student debt remains the top challenge to reaching graduation, as reported by online program graduates every year for the past four years.
  • Almost half (49%) of remote learners anticipated enrolling in online courses after their campuses return to normal operations.
  • More than one-quarter (28%) of remote students believed the impact of COVID-19- related changes on their college experience will have lasting effects on their mental health.
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Marketing and Recruitment

  • Almost half (48%) of online and remote students were motivated by career and employment goals to enroll in their programs.
  • Students’ biggest challenge to making a decision about online education was finding a program that met their needs and interests.
  • Students were most likely to rely on college websites and online student reviews when researching and comparing online programs.
  • If online program graduates could do it over again, they would conduct more research about costs and financial aid and compare more programs.
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Program Design and Administration

  • One-third (33%) of school administrators planned to continue with both remote and online course options after returning to normal campus operations.
  • Twelve percent of administrators realized they don’t need to be on campus to perform their jobs.
  • Almost half (47%) of administrators said there is a need for more investment in instructional design-related processes and resources.
  • A majority (58%) of administrators shared that institutional finances are the most challenging aspect of preparing for 2021.
  • The vast majority (96%) of administrators said that faculty development is a top priority in the coming year.
  • Eighty-three percent of administrators agreed that there will be an increased need for online courses over the next few years, related to issues such as social distancing.
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Student Satisfaction

  • Ninety-five percent of students overall, and 83% of remote learners, said they would recommend online or remote learning to others.
  • An overwhelming majority (93%) of students said they have had or expect a positive return on their online education investment.
  • Overall, a majority (74%) of students thought that online learning was better than or equal to on-campus learning; 64% of remote learners felt this way, too.

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Meet the Author

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 the University of South Florida 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 with research interests in distance education and support services for online students.

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