Online Learning Statistics
Editor & Writer
Editor & Writer
Editor & Writer
Editor & Writer
In 2021, 11.2 million college students (60%) took at least one class online.
That's a decrease from 2020, when 14.2 million college students (75%) took at least one class online.Note Reference 
About 8.9 million students (47%) take college classes exclusively online.Note Reference 
A little more than 1 in 10 postsecondary institutions offer courses primarily online.
2.8 million students (15%) attend these fully online colleges.Note Reference 
The average net cost of online college is about $600 per credit hour.
96% of online program alums recommended online learning.
47% of school administrators said their schools planned to increase spending on online learning programs.Note Reference 
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, remote learning in higher education peaked. Since then, campuses have re-opened, and fewer students are participating in online classes. But, distance learning and fully online degree programs remain popular options.
This report dives into the statistics around online learning. It covers fully online colleges and distance learning options for on-campus programs. Plus, survey data reveals what college students really think about online education.
Table of Contents
Online Education Enrollment Statistics
In fall 2021, about 6 in 10 college students took at least one course online.Note Reference 
- About 30% of students took classes exclusively online.
- Another 30% had some but not all of their classes online.
- 40% of students did not take any online courses.
Online classes were slightly more popular among undergraduates, at four-year colleges, and at public institutions.Note Reference 
- 61% of undergraduates took at least one course online, versus 56% of graduate students.
- 58% of students at four-year schools and 65% of students at two-year schools took at least one course online.
- 63% of public college students and 53% of private college students took at least one course online.
Over the past twenty years, it has become increasingly common for students to take at least some of their courses online. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic caused this trend to accelerate. However, it tapered somewhat in fall 2021.
Online learning may be here to stay. BestColleges' 2023 Online Education Trends Report found that 47% of administrators planned on increasing their spending on online learning programs. Half (50%) said their spending wouldn't change from last year. Just 3% expected their budgets for online program development to decrease.
Enrollment in Online Courses by State
Below, find the percentage of students who take college courses online by students' state of residence.
Online Colleges Statistics
In 2020, there were 422 online colleges — i.e., postsecondary institutions that offered courses primarily online. These colleges represent 11% of all postsecondary institutions.Note Reference 
Online colleges enrolled 2.8 million students (15% of all college students) in 2020,Note Reference  including:
- 14% of all full-time students
- 17% of all part-time students
- 14% of all undergraduate students
- 16% of all graduate students
Primarily online schools are more diverse than other postsecondary institutions. Students of color are enrolled at greater percentages at these schools than they are across all schools.Note Reference 
And unlike the demographic profile across all postsecondary institutions, there's no one racial majority at these schools — white students make up less than half of all students enrolled at primarily online schools.
In 2023, BestColleges surveyed 1,800 prospective online students, current online students, remote learners, and online program graduates. We found:Note Reference 
- 68% of current online students held full-time or part-time employment.
- 95% had children under 18 living in their household.
Is Online College Cheaper? Average Tuition and Fees
Online College Tuition
Just 39 distance-learning-only institutions in the NCES College Navigator database reported their 2021-2022 net price for full-time, first-year undergraduate students.Note Reference 
- The average net price of these online colleges is about $18,020 a year.
- Public online colleges cost about $12,980 a year, on average.
- Private nonprofit online colleges cost about $15,940 a year, on average.
- Private for-profit online colleges cost $20,980 a year, on average.
The average net price per credit hour for online colleges was about $600.Note Reference  However, the least expensive online colleges can cost less than $200 a credit hour.
Online Learning vs. In-Person Program Costs
Nonprofit Quality Matters surveyed chief online officers at nearly 400 schools about how their online learning tuition compared to equivalent on-campus offerings at their institutions.
- 14% said online programs were priced lower or generally lower compared to in-person programs.
- 16% said online programs were priced higher or generally higher than in-person ones.
- 69% said online and in-person programs were priced the same or generally the same.
Remote Learning Fees
Remote learners — students enrolled in on-campus programs who attend class online — may be exempt from some campus-related fees. However, they can accrue other fees for technology use that add to the true cost of online college.
In a 2016 survey of nearly 200 colleges:
- 75% of colleges charged in-person and remote students the same tuition.
- Just 27% of colleges charged in-person and remote students the same total price, which includes fees.
- 54% of colleges charged remote learners more in total price.
Survey Data: What Students Say About Online Learning
Many online students surveyed in our 2023 Online Education Trends report shared positive experiences with online learning:Note Reference 
- 96% of online college graduates would recommend online learning.
- 93% of graduates said their online degree will result in a positive return on investment.
- Three-quarters of students (75%) said online education was better than or equal to in-person learning — a five percentage point increase from last year.
But online program alums also encountered challenges. Their top challenges were:
- Paying for school while minimizing student debt (26%)
- Encountering unexpected circumstances or personal life events (20%)
- Staying on track with classes in order to graduate in the planned time frame (15%)
Additionally, 30% of online program graduates said they wish they would have done more research about cost and financial aid.Note Reference