2017 Babson Distance Education Enrollment Report

Babson Distance Education Enrollment Report

The Babson Distance Education Enrollment Report for 2017 was recently released.  This is a new iteration of the report, a series which has been around for a decade.  This new endeavor is a collaboration of a number of leaders in the space that have decided to join forces.  As the website says:

Realizing that we accomplish more together (and that we liked each other’s data wonk personalities), the three organizations partnered in 2017 to create the Digital Learning Compass. Our goal: To be the definitive source of information on the patterns and trends of U.S. postsecondary distance learning.


The partners now include:

Executive Summary of Babson Distance Education Enrollment Report

Distance education continued its pattern of growth for yet another year. Fall 2015 saw more than 6 million students taking at least one distance course, having increased by 3.9% over the previous year. This growth rate was higher than seen in either of the two previous years.

In higher education, 29.7% of all students are taking at least one distance course. The total distance enrollments are composed of 14.3% of students (2,902,756) taking exclusively distance courses and 15.4% (3,119,349) who are taking a combination of distance and non-distance courses. The vast majority (4,999,112, or 83.0%) of distance students are studying at the undergraduate level.

Public institutions continue to educate the largest proportion of distance students (4,080,565, or 67.8%), while private non-profit institutions passed the private forprofit sector for the first time.

Year-to-year changes in distance enrollments have been very uneven, with continued steady growth for the public sector, greater levels of growth (albeit on a much smaller base) for the private non-profit sector, and continuation of the decline in total enrollments for the private for-profit sector for the third year in a row.

The large-scale trends show the growing importance of the private non-profits as a key player in providing distance education. The top-level trends, however, do mask the wide variety of changes happening across all of higher education. Even though each of the three sectors grew at a different rate, the proportion of institutions within each sector reporting increases was very similar; two-thirds of the members of each sector reported more distance enrollments in 2015 than 2014. The large-scale declines in enrollments in the for-profit sector were driven by substantial decreases among a few of the largest institutions, not by an overall decline among most for-profit institutions.

Distance education enrollments remain highly concentrated in a relatively small number of institutions. Almost half of the distance education students are concentrated in just five percent of the institutions, while the top 47 institutions, only 1.0% of the total, enroll 23.0% (1,385,307) of all distance students.

The total number of students studying on campus (those not taking any distance course or taking a combination of distance and non-distance courses) dropped by almost one million (931,317) between 2012 and 2015. The largest declines came at for-profit institutions, which saw a 31.4% drop, followed by 2-year public institutions, which saw a 10.4% decrease.

The picture of change in distance enrollments is composed of a relatively few institutions having large gains or large losses, with most institutions showing modest changes in either direction. Among those institutions showing large gains, Southern New Hampshire University (a private non-profit) led the list with an increase of just under 400% between 2012 and 2015, growing by 45,085 students (from 11,286 to 56,371). Four other institutions grew their distance enrollments by more than 10,000 students during this period (Western Governors University, Brigham Young University-Idaho, University of Central Florida, and Grand Canyon University). The largest drops were recorded by the University of Phoenix and Ashford University, two for-profit institutions.

Download the report here.

The infographic for the report is available here.

Past reports are available here:


Rick W. Burkett runs the John A. Logan College Teaching and Learning Center, teaches history, and heads an educational nonprofit. He publishes blogs on a wide variety of topics, including history, teaching and learning, student success, and teaching online.

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