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2017 Online Education Trends

The online education market continues to grow and appears to be entering a new stage of market maturity. Our review and analysis reveals several important trends to watch:

1. There has been an explosion in the number of online programs and the number of schools working with online program managers (OPM’s). Recent data and studies released indicate that while overall enrollment in online programs grew by 30% over the past 4 years, there was a 110% increase in the number of online programs and a 130% increase in schools working with OPM’s.*

2. Online graduate programs have grown to be 30% of the entire graduate enrollment market with enrollment of 733,991 in 2014. Contrary to popular perceptions, a substantial portion of this enrollment, 31%, is enrolled with for-profit education providers. And this for-profit role in the online market does not count the enrollment in for-profit OPM’s providing services to non-profit universities. That enrollment is reported as the non-profit school’s enrollment even though the for-profit provider’s share of the tuition may exceed 50%.

3. Over the past year, online business programs are the only category of programs to have grown in the graduate education category. Education and nursing, two of the earliest and largest programs to generate online enrollment, have experienced enrollment declines, which, in the case of nursing, are substantial.

Online Program Enrollment Trends

Online Enrollment Implications

Our analysis of these trends suggests that OPM’s are becoming more negotiable and flexible in their contracting terms as competition in that sector has increased dramatically and much of the low hanging online enrollment fruit has been picked.
While we expect continued growth of online enrollment in the graduate sector, schools will have to work harder to find niche markets to serve and price competition will increase in intensity as consumers have a wide choice of higher education brands available to them in their own living room. We expect consumer demand for certificates and other specific non-degree credentials, which can be acquired faster and at lower costs than degrees, to increase in the next several years.

In our next blog post, we will dive deeper into these trends and the implications for schools, students and OPM’s.

* Data sources for all data in this blog are from Eduvantis market analysis,  IPEDs, US News and World Reports ranking of online programs and recent study results of OPM’s published by Eduventures.