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Half of Online Students Would Not Opt for Live Courses

New research into the demographics of online college students found 50 percent of them would probably not choose to attend classes on a physical campus.

Half of higher education students taking advantage of online instruction said in a survey they either would not or were not sure they would attend live courses even if they were available to them. That's according to the fifth annual survey by Learning House and Aslanian Market Research on the demographics of students who are pursuing online college degrees.

This year's study, entitled "Online College Students 2016: Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences," found that while online courses were the only option for half of students, 90 percent of students who had taken live on-campus courses said they either prefer online courses or found them just as satisfying.

"Current estimates place the number of students working toward their degrees online at 3.5 million," said Learning House Chief Academic Officer David Clinefelter. "Institutions of higher learning cannot afford to ignore this population."

Most online students still are most familiar with the traditional college degree template and less aware of alternative paths to accomplish their educational goals. Only about a third of online students were aware of the principles of competency-based education, and fewer than one in five understood anything about alternative pathways such as massive open online courses, micro-degrees or boot camps.

"Our findings demonstrate the importance of building more awareness of alternative pathways and competency-based education," said Aslanian Market Research President Carol Aslanian.

The online college student survey was conducted in spring 2016 with 1,500 individuals, 18 or older, who had either recently graduated, were currently enrolled or planned to enroll in the next year in a fully online higher education degree, certificate or licensure program.

Other findings include:

  • Among the students surveyed, tuition was the No. 1 factor driving online program selection. In fact, almost nine out of 10 students said they could be swayed to pick a particular school with the promise of a scholarship of as little as $500.
  • Students make their decisions quickly about which online program to choose. Most only consider two or three institutions at the most and half choose the first one that responds to them. The survey found 68 percent of students spent less than four weeks in a decision-making process.
  • Online college students are getting younger. In this year's survey, the average age for undergraduates was 29 and 33 for graduate students. That is down from 36 and 37, respectively, in 2014.
  • Nearly three out of four students picked a school that had a physical campus within 100 miles of their home, with 32 percent saying they planned to visit the campus at least once a year and 44 percent saying they planned to visit it more frequently.
  • Business has consistently been the most popular field of study at both undergraduate and graduate levels. However, in this year's study, computer and IT was the second most popular field for graduate students, with 20 percent choosing it — supplanting education, which dropped from 22 percent in 2014 to 14 percent this year.

The full report is available at the Learning House site (registration required).

About the Author

Michael Hart is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and the former executive editor of THE Journal.

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