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1 in 10 Students Enrolled Exclusively in Online Courses

A little more than 12 percent of all American post-secondary students were enrolled exclusively in online courses or online degree programs in 2012, according to the latest figures released by the National Center for Education Statistics, with another 13 percent taking at least some courses online.

On the whole, more than one-quarter — 25.8 percent — of post-secondary students took at least some courses online in fall 2012 (the latest period for which data are available).

Among undergraduates, 2.6 million (14.2 percent) took just some courses online, with 2 million (11 percent) taking their courses exclusively online.

The percentage of students taking courses exclusively online spiked among post-baccalaureate students, with 22 percent (639,343) enrolled exclusively online. Another 7.8 percent (227,467) took just some courses online.

According to the new report, "Enrollment in Distance Education Courses, by State: Fall 2012," public two-year colleges had the highest percentage of students taking just some courses online (17.3 percent, or 1.2 million students), followed by public four-year institutions, at 15.1 percent (1.2 million). About 16 percent, or 2.4 million, of all students enrolled at public institutions took just some courses online, with 8.3 percent (1.25 million) taking all of their courses online.

The highest rate of fully online enrollment was seen at private, for-profit institutions, where 42.6 percent of students (925,495) were enrolled exclusively online. At private, for-profit four-year institutions specifically, that jumps to 61.3 percent. Contrasting with that, just 5.2 percent of students enrolled in private, for profit two-year institutions took their programs completely online.

Among private, for-profit institutions, just 6.6 percent of students (143,191) took only some courses online.

Private non-profits had similar figures for part-time online enrollment, 6.5 percent (259,843). Fully online enrollment at private non-profits was 11.8 percent (467,528).

By state, the highest fully online enrollment percentage was seen in Arizona, the lowest in Rhode Island (1.6 percent). Seven states had at least a fifth of their post-secondary students enrolled fully online:

  • Arizona (48.2 percent, or 360,835 students);
  • West Virginia (40 percent, 66,096 students);
  • Iowa (39.7 percent, 144,223 students);
  • Minnesota (26.2 percent, 119,366 students);
  • North Dakota (22.9 percent, 12,718 students);
  • Utah (22 percent, 62,089 students); and
  • South Dakota (20.9 percent, 11,803 students).

Twenty-one states (plus the District of Columbia) had fully online enrollment percentages in the single digits.

Curiously, only two states had at least 20 percent of their students enrolled in some but not all distance education courses: Idaho (23.8 percent, or 26,184 students) and North Carolina (11.4 percent, or 66,558 students). But the vast majority of states were in the double digits. Just nine states (plus the District of Columbia) had part-time online enrollments of less than 10 percent.

The complete report, which includes additional breakdowns by state, can be found at


About the Author

David Nagel is editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Technology Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal and STEAM Universe. A 29-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art and business publications.

He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at or follow him on Twitter at @THEDavidNagel (K-12) or @CampusTechDave (higher education).

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