- Students’ interest in online academic programs increased in February, despite the continuation of a year-long downward trend for inquiries into academic programs as a whole, according to a recent report from Gray Associates, which reviews student and employer demand trends regarding higher education.
- The spike coincides with a desire on the part of students for education opportunities that can be accessed nontraditionally. Potential students may be raising a family or working full-time, and thus want the flexibility an online course schedule could allow.
- The report attributed the drop in inquiries about higher ed to the fact that the country’s college-age population has not been increasing. Inquiries into higher education have fallen in each month since January 2016, but inquiries regarding online program saw increases last year as well, with four consecutive months of gains as of November.
The report’s conclusions about why inquiries into higher education have decreased could account for the drop in total, but the question remains as to why interest regarding online college courses increased despite the downward trend. Studies regarding student outcomes in online learning have not yielded much definitive evidence as of yet that it offers improved outcomes for enrolled students in contrast to traditional programs.
With Americans increasingly considering a college education as not being necessary in developing a successful professional life, prospective students may consider online learning options as less significant investments — a means to a degree without requiring one to upend their life and schedule. The increase in interest could also be due to an uptick in the availability of colleges offering online courses. A report last year found that the share of private colleges that offered five or more fully online programs had grown from 15 to 25% in three years, and its results also indicated many educators’ uncertainties about online learning were thawing. Perhaps the diversity of courses is meeting the demand of students, which will only encourage educational institutions to further expand the options of courses available online.