October 20, 2017

Online enrollments in the USA grow 10% in 2011; OERs becoming accepted

© Babson Survey Research Group and Quahog Research Group, LLC, 2011

Allen, I. and Seaman, J. (2011) Going the Distance: Online Education in the USA 2011 Wellesley MA: Babson Survey Research Group

This is the latest in the series of surveys formerly known as the Sloan-C survey, but now jointly supported by Pearson, Inside Higher Education, Sloan, and Kaplan University. It is based on responses from over 2,500 institutions (a response rate of 55%).

Significant results:

  • The growth of online enrollments in 2011 was 10%, half the rate of 2010 (21%). The overall enrollment growth rate in US HE was less than 1%
  • There are now over 6 million students in the USA taking at least one online course
  • 31% of all students in the USA (public, private and for-profit) are now taking at least one course online
  • Since 2003, online enrollments have grown by 358%
  • However, since 2003, the proportion of respondents who agree that their faculty “fully accept” the “value and legitimacy of online education” has edged up from 30.4 % to just 32%
  • One-third of all academic leaders continue to believe that the learning outcomes for online education are inferior to those of face-to-face instruction.
  • Academic leaders at institutions with online offerings have a much more favorable opinion of the relative learning outcomes for online courses than do those at institutions with no online courses or programs.
  • 65% of all reporting institutions said that online learning was a critical part of their long-term strategy, a small increase from 63% in 2010.
  • For-profit institutions are the most likely to have included online learning as a part of their strategic plan
  • While the number of programs and courses online continue to grow, the acceptance of this learning modality by faculty has been relatively constant since first measured in 2003 (according to chief academic officers)
  • 57% of academic leaders believe that OERs have value and less than five percent disagree (the rest are neutral). The proportion of for-profit institutions agreeing with this statement has shown a large increase over a two-year period (moving from 49.8% in 2009 to 72.4% in 2011.)
  • Nearly two thirds of chief academic officers agreed that OERs have the potential to reduce costs.

There is much more in the full report. There is also an excellent discussion of this report at:

Kolowich, S. (2011) Online grows, doubts persist Inside Higher Education, November 9


There are several possible reasons for the slow down in growth: cash-poor public institutions (which has slowed enrollment growth generally), recent Federal regulations, and market saturation. Indeed, the full impact of the Federal Program Integrity Rules, released in October 2010 by  by the US Department of Education, probably haven’t reached their full impact yet.

Paul Stacey, in his blog, ‘State of Online Address‘, provides more details but concludes:

All these new regulations have had a chilling effect on online learning in the US. Huge effort is being diverted from online learning innovation to red-tape compliance. While some of the regulations are obviously intended to curb the excesses of private education providers in the US many of them seem based on a fundamental distrust of online and distance education.

For those of us who have been working in distance education since 1969, this of course is nothing new – we’re just martyrs to the cause. Fortunately, though, as Paul says, we are not (yet) subject to such regulation in Canada. (Canadian smugness rules).

However, at some point market saturation, and more opportunities in hybrid courses, are bound to kick in and slow down the growth of fully online or distance education to a relatively steady state. With around 15% of all course enrollments in Ontario now in fully online courses, there still seems plenty of room for growth, at least in Canada. If only though we had some national statistics.

In the meantime, I continue to admire Elaine Allen and Jeff Seaman for their invaluable attempts to tag a raging tiger.

To download an infographic from this report, click here

See also: For-profit online enrollments down in 2011


  1. […] Tony Bates hat den jährlichen Sloan-Report über Online-Education in US (Allen, I. and Seaman, J.: Going the Distance: Online Education in the USA 2011, Wellesley MA: Babson Survey Research Group) gelesen und bewertet. Der Titel seines Beitrags weist bereits auf zwei Ergebnisse: Online Enrollments wachsen in US zwar immer noch stärker als alle Enrollments zusammengenommen, aber das Wachstum hat sich verlangsamt. Über die Gründe darf spekuliert werden (zusammen mit Tony Bates). Und Open Educational Resources (OER) sind offensichtlich ein Thema: “57% of academic leaders believe that OERs have value and less than five percent disagree (the rest are neutral). The proportion of for-profit institutions agreeing with this statement has shown a large increase over a two-year period (moving from 49.8% in 2009 to 72.4% in 2011.).” Tony Bates, e-learning and distant education RESOURCES, 9. November 2011 […]

  2. […] over one-third of students now taking at least one online course in the USA (Allen and Seaman, 2011), and with 15% of all enrollments in Ontario now online, and with online enrollments predicted to […]

  3. […] MOOCs) and under-reporting in others (for-credit programs). We are almost entirely dependent on the Sloan/Babson annual surveys for online learning enrollments and the Kenneth Green survey for IT developments on campuses, both […]

  4. […] it terms flexible learning, which includes distance and in service education. Compare this with the USA where 30% of all students take at least one course online. Ireland has a long way to go. Credit […]

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