Where Online Students Attend College

October 18, 2017

To better understand the impact of in-state distance education enrollment on total online enrollment, the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) conducted an analysis of the Department of Education's Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System distance education data for 2015 (the latest year available) by sector. The analysis only includes reported enrollments that were “exclusively in distance education courses,” per the IPEDS protocols.

Most public institutions are primarily focused on serving students in their own state, and that is reflected in the data, WICHE reported. Of the 788 public institutions operating under the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) during the reporting period, 83.7 percent of their exclusively distance education enrollments were in state, while 16.3 percent were in another state.

The 2015 IPEDS data support the assertion that public institutions are primarily focused on serving students in their own state. Even when students are studying exclusively at a distance, an overwhelming 78.4 percent are enrolled at institutions in their home states, the WICHE report states.

The picture is quite different when looking at exclusively distance education enrollments, where students live outside the state of the institutions in which they are enrolled, according to WICHE. For-profit institutions lead reported enrollment with 44.3 percent, followed closely by private nonprofit institutions. Public institutions reported 16.6 percent of out-of-state exclusively online students.


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