Data & Trends

The Share of Online Enrollment in Overall US Graduate Studies, According to IPEDS

01/15/18   |  
Chris Gardiner

Since 2012, the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) has gathered and released data on postsecondary online enrollment in the US.

Its Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) report for the fall term of 2016 was just released, and we’ve been poring over the results, analyzing what the current state of enrollment means for our partners, the students they serve, and the overall state of higher education.

Once again, we’re pleased to see definitive proof that an investment in online programming is not only valuable but increasingly necessary.

While overall enrollment at all levels stayed static, with a slight decline (1%) from Fall 2015 and a 2% decline from 2012, that slight decline doesn’t tell the whole story. Certain segments of higher education are in apparent freefall, but growth in others – most notably online education – buoys the statistics.

Here’s a look at what’s happening overall:

  • Much of the reported overall enrollment decline is at the undergraduate level, where 2016 had the fewest total undergraduate students enrolled in the last five years.
  • The private for-profit sector continued to drag down growth in the public and private not-for-profit sectors. For-profit institutions declined 3% in overall enrollment and 1% in exclusively online enrollment.
  • Graduate student enrollment online made an even bigger leap – it’s up 6% from 2015 and 40% from 2012. That’s right – 40% growth in just five years. Much of that growth belonged to the private not-for-profit sector (8% growth, 305,451 enrolled) and public sector (10% Growth, 292,999 enrolled).
  • Of the nearly 3 million graduate students, 823,353 (27.6%) of them attended classes exclusively online in 2016.

IPEDS also reported that at the end of 2016, the top 50 largest institutions enrolled 48% of all online graduate students. To you, that might sound like domination by the largest players – but to us, it sounds like an opportunity. While there are large players in online enrollment, there is still considerable ability to gain market share.

The market for online education is real, and it isn’t slowing down. Especially in specific specialties, the demand for online education will continue to grow. Though program-level enrollment data is still challenging to ascertain through IPEDS, ASEE’s Engineering by the Numbers 2016 reported 127,159 students were enrolled in master’s level engineering, and 32% of those attended part-time (40,387) which is typically how online students prefer to study.  For more information on the outlook of the online Engineering market, check out our Engineering Market Brief.

Whatever your institution specializes in, your prospective students want the opportunity to study it online. We expect the next IPEDS report will show yet another uptick in online enrollment – making right now the perfect time to start a conversation with a team of online program management experts.

Access IPEDS data here.