Who's Up and Who's Down in Online Enrollment?

Newly analyzed federal data show drops for many for-profit providers and two-year colleges and growth for Sun Belt publics and some newly visible nonprofit universities.

May 3, 2017
 

The newly released Digital Learning Compass contains a wealth of data about the state of online education in the United States. An earlier article in Inside Digital Learning and a new article this week in Inside Higher Ed explored some of the highlights of the report, a product of the Babson Survey Research Group, e-Literate and WCET.

In this article, we dig into institution-level data in online enrollments. The Digital Learning Compass, which analyzes federal data from the Education Department's Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, includes tables showing the 50 colleges and universities with the largest number of students taking at least one online course in both 2012 and 2015, the latest year available.

In the table below, Inside Digital Learning looks at how the online enrollment landscape has shifted in the last few years -- who is ascendent, who is losing ground and who is holding their own.

Patterns Emerge

Not surprisingly, given the seismic shifts in the economy and intensified government regulation, many of the biggest declines were at for-profit institutions, starting at the top. The University of Phoenix retained its status as having the largest online enrollment from 2012 to 2015, but it lost nearly 100,000 students, more than a third of its overall enrollment. Ashford University, part of Bridgepoint Education, suffered a 45 percent decline in its online enrollment over that period, dropping to 11th from second in 2011.

A few other for-profit colleges showed growth -- Chamberlain College of Nursing nearly doubled its online enrollment, Grand Canyon experienced a nearly 24 percent increase and Walden University grew by 5 percent. Several others dipped only modestly, like Colorado Technical University, Capella University, Kaplan University (which agreed last week to be sold to Purdue University) and American Public University System.

Many of the other big enrollment losers from 2012 to 2015 were community colleges. Ivy Tech and Northern Virginia Community College both lost at least a third of their online enrollments, and where 15 two-year institutions were represented in the top 50 in 2012, that number was down to eight in 2015: Ivy Tech, Lone Star College System, Houston Community College, Valencia College, St. Petersburg College, College of Southern Nevada, Northern Virginia Community College and Cuyahoga Community College.

The biggest gainers, meanwhile, were mostly private nonprofit institutions. Western Governors University, which kicked into another gear in growth in the late 2000s, moved from 10th to third with an online enrollment gain of 70 percent. Southern New Hampshire University's nearly 400 percent increase in digital enrollment skyrocketed it from 50th place to fourth, and Brigham Young University-Idaho more than doubled its online enrollment to move from 45th in 2012 to 14th in 2015.

The other noteworthy category of institutions were the public universities, mostly in the Sun Belt, that saw their online enrollments swell as they grew generally. California State University-Northridge (151.6 percent increase), Florida State University (79.7 percent), Texas Tech University (191.6 percent), the University of Iowa (217 percent) and the University of Texas at Arlington (75.8 percent) were among them.

One caveat about the numbers below, to ward off some potential confusion: The table appears to show Arizona State University losing significant online enrollment, down about 36 percent from 2012. But the table also shows another Arizona State campus, its innovation campus called Skysong, with 19,000-plus students compared to none in 2012. An Arizona State spokesperson explains that the university in 2013 began reporting its online enrollments separately by campus, and that the university's total online enrollment in 2015 was 52,490, which would place it seventh among all institutions.

Top 50 Institutions by Online Enrollments (Students Taking at Least One Class) in 2015

2015 Rank Institution 2015 Online Enrollment 2012 Online Enrollment 2012 Rank % Change
1 University of Phoenix-Arizona               162,003 256,346 1 -36.8%
2 Liberty University                  72,519 69,935 3 3.7%
3 Western Governors University                  70,504 41,369 10 70.4%
4 Southern New Hampshire University                  56,371 11,286 50 399.5%
5 Grand Canyon University                  54,543 44,006 7 23.9%
6 Walden University                  52,799 50,209 5 5.2%
7 American Public University System                  52,361 58,115 4 -9.9%
8 University of Maryland-University College                  48,677 42,165 9 15.4%
9 Kaplan University-Davenport Campus                  45,268 46,374 6 -2.4%
10 Excelsior College                  43,123 39,728 11 8.5%
11 Ashford University                  42,046 76,722 2 -45.2%
12 Capella University                  34,365 35,754 13 -3.9%
13 Ivy Tech Community College                  34,103 42,821 8 -20.4%
14 Brigham Young University-Idaho                  33,551 11,763 45 185.2%
15 University of Central Florida                  33,034 21,782 20 51.7%
16 University of Florida                  28,838 23,180 18 24.4%
17 Florida International University                  26,341 25,028 16 5.2%
18 Arizona State University (main)                  22,809 36,095 12 -36.8%
19 Colorado Technical University                  22,757 22,608 19 0.7%
20 Chamberlain College of Nursing                  22,114  11,096 n/a 99.3%
21 Lone Star College System                  21,811 18,602 25 17.3%
22 University of South Florida (main)                  20,993 16,241 30 29.3%
23 Columbia Southern University                  20,823 19,933 23 4.5%
24 DeVry University                  20,458 21,616 21 -5.4%
25 Full Sail University                  19,939 23,486 17 -15.1%
26 Houston Community College                  19,111 17,524 26 9.1%
27 Arizona State University (Skysong)                  19,094 0 N/A n/a
28 University of Texas at Arlington                  17,541 9,975 n/a 75.8%
29 Valencia College                  17,216 13,985 34 23.1%
30 American College of Financial Services                  16,764 0 n/a n/a
31 St. Petersburg College                  16,501 16,669 28 -1.0%
32 California State University-Northridge                  16,130 6,412 n/a 151.6%
33 College of Southern Nevada                  14,906 13,270 35 12.3%
34 Texas Tech University                  14,826 5,085 n/a 191.6%
35 Pennsylvania State University (main)                  14,355 13,238 36 8.4%
36 University of Cincinnati (main)                  13,992 9,424 n/a 48.5%
37 Kent State University                  13,754 10,159 n/a 35.4%
38 Northern Virginia Community College                  13,421 19,152 24 -29.9%
39 Utah State University                  13,360 10,232 n/a 30.6%
40 Thomas Edison State University                  13,093 20,456 22 -36.0%
41 University of Houston                  12,961 10,834 n/a 19.6%
42 Florida State University                  12,858 7,154 n/a 79.7%
43 Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University                  12,857 11,368 49 13.1%
44 University of Iowa                  12,784 4,029 n/a 217.3%
45 Wilmington University                  12,745 5,361 n/a 137.7%
46 University of North Texas                  12,517 11,259 n/a 11.2%
47 University of Alabama at Birmingham                  12,371 6,843 n/a 80.8%
48 North Carolina State University                  12,321 10,873 n/a 13.3%
49 Cuyahoga Community College District                  12,266 12,418 40 -1.2%
50 Pennsylvania State University World Campus                  12,242 8,488 n/a 44.2%

 

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