A Note from BestColleges on Coronavirus and the Transition to Online Education

The data reported here was collected shortly before the coronavirus outbreak. The students who participated in this study had already chosen or were planning to take online courses. Their insights into the challenges of becoming successful online students, including lessons learned along the way, help to inform the development of future online programs.

Online student success is driven in part by the support they receive throughout their journey, from making a decision about enrollment to reaching their education and career goals. For more information and resources focused on supporting students who are new to online learning during campus closures, please visit the BestColleges blog.

Key Findings

This new online student demographics report provides a deeper dive into the data collected from 1,500 students for the 2020 Online Education Trends Report. These students represent three broad enrollment categories (i.e., prospective, current, and alumni), as well as three motivational types (i.e., career climbers, career switchers, and explorers). Whether your institution is new to online learning or has long-established programs, this report contains useful information for decision-making related to student recruiting, retention, and satisfaction.

    Choosing Online Learning

    • “Employer partnership/incentive” appears among the top three reasons for enrolling online for prospective students in all career motivation types: career climbers, switchers, and explorers.
    • Overall, students of all types reported low use of social media posts (3%), printed materials (2%), and student or faculty blogs (2%) when researching and comparing online programs.
    Choosing Online Learning

    Roadblocks and Regrets

    • This year, “staying on track with classes” to graduate on time emerged as a concern across student types and categories.
    • Current students wish they had “spoken with employers or professionals in the field” before enrolling, and this was particularly true of Climbers (i.e., students who enrolled with goals of advancing in their current field of work).
    TRoadblocks and Regrets

    Student Satisfaction

    • Of the top four majors represented in our survey, students in health professions and related programs reported the highest satisfaction levels with 97% recommending online learning and 97% expecting a positive ROI.
    • Education majors reported the lowest perception of quality with only 75% stating that online education is "equal to" or "better than" on-campus learning, compared to 87% of computer science majors.
    TRoadblocks and Regrets

    Meet the Author

    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 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.

    Find Additional Research from BestColleges

    Archive: 2018 Student's Guide to Online Education

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    Archive: The 2017 Student's Guide to Online Education

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