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Top 5 Online Higher Education Programs: Student Recruitment and Employment Trends

August 22, 2018 Cliff Libby

Online higher education programs saw continued growth in 2018, according to the Q2 2018 Higher Education Inquiry Generation Review. Despite a decline in Q4 2017, the overall trend for the past two years was positive, with growth in both Q1 and Q2 of 2018. While volume for campus-based and online programs was fairly comparable in Q1 2016, online programs grew at a higher rate. Online associate degrees did particularly well, with a 31.1% share of volume (SOV) in Q2 2018.

Inquiry Volume Campus Based vs. Online Programs By Quarter Q1 2016 Q2 2018 Digital Media Solutions Chart

In this article, we’ll dive into the top five highest volume online programs in Q2 2018 and examine conversion data plus employment trends, as labor trend shifts can heavily impact student recruitment trends. If your institution doesn’t currently offer these online programs, you may want to consider adding them, as the top five programs accounted for nearly 40% of online program volume and conversions in Q2 2018.

1. Business Administration and Management, General

Inquiry volume for online business programs has decreased since early 2016 from roughly 15% of online program SOV in early 2016 to just over 11% SOV in Q2 2018. The conversion rate during that time has increased from under 6% to over 7%, the result of greater inquiry efficiency. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS),

Medical Insurance Coding Specialist/Coder

2. Medical Insurance Coding Specialist/Coder

Medical insurance coding online programs increased from just over 7% SOV in Q1 2016 to nearly 9% SOV in Q2 2018, nearly a 25% increase in SOV during the date range. The largest spike in inquiries came in Q2 2017, when lead volume jumped 18% over the prior quarter. Volume was relatively steady from Q1 2018 to Q2 2018, but conversion rates did drop off from 6.8% in Q1 2018 to 5.1% in Q2 2018. The BLS projects health information technician employment will grow 13% from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations. The demand for health services is expected to increase as the population ages.

3. Medical Office Assistant / Specialist

Inquiry SOV for online medical office assistant / specialist programs fluctuated from Q1 2016 through Q2 2018, and fell slightly from 7.4% in Q1 2018 to 6.9% in Q2 2018. Conversion rates increased from 7.9% in Q1 2016 to 9.3% in Q1 2017, but since fell to 6.9% in Q1 2018 and then to 5.3% in Q2 2018. According to the BLS, medical assistant jobs are expected to grow 29 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. Again, the growth of the aging population is expected to increase demand for preventive medical services. The BLS suggests that physicians will hire more assistants to perform routine clinical and administrative tasks, which will enable physicians to see more patients. 

Health/Health Care Administration/Management

4. Health/Health Care Administration/Management

Online health care administration and management program inquiries grew from 5.3% SOV in Q1 2016 to 6.5% in Q2 2018. Conversion rates hovered around 6.5% for most of 2016, but then spiked up to 7.6% in Q1 2017, though they have since fallen to 6.1% in Q1 2018 and 5.2% in Q2 2018. The BLS projects employment of medical and health services managers will grow 20% from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations.

5. Human Services, General

Online human service programs saw a significant spike in SOV over the past 10 quarters, more than doubling from a 2.5% SOV in Q1 2016 to 5.2% in Q2 2018. At the same time, conversion rates significantly declined from the 10% range throughout 2016 to 5.7% in Q2 2018. The BLS projects employment of social and human service assistants will grow 16% from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. The growing elderly population plus increased demand for social services is expected to drive demand in this industry.

Generally online program inquiry volume tends to align with anticipated employment trends. For more information on other higher education recruitment trends, download the Q2 2018 Higher Education Inquiry Generation Review. Curious to see how program volume has changed over time? Check out our late 2016 article Top 15 Higher Education Programs: Student Recruitment and Employment Trends.

About the Author

Cliff Libby

Cliff Libby is the Executive Vice President and General Manager of Education at Digital Media Solutions (DMS), the fastest-growing independent digital performance marketing company. DMS helps its clients accelerate growth by deploying diversified and data-driven customer acquisition solutions that deliver scalable, sustainable and measurable marketing results. DMS performance marketing solutions connect the right consumers with the right offers at the right time to achieve the marketing objectives of our clients. DMS is continually innovating to provide new and emerging media and technology solutions that minimize waste and maximize results across the most competitive industries. Since its inception, DMS has demonstrated incredible year-over-year growth which has earned recognition on the Inc. 5000 list in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. An accomplished leader in higher education marketing, Libby comes to DMS with incredible experience in entrepreneurial and high-growth environments. Prior to joining DMS, Libby held management roles at CourseAdvisor – which was later rebranded to Avenue 100 Media – during its pivotal time as a Washington Post subsidiary. Libby started his career in admissions at Wheaton College Massachusetts and has since held executive leadership roles in a variety of software and technology service companies focused exclusively in higher education. Cliff graduated with a BA in American Studies from Wheaton College Massachusetts, and earned his MBA from Boston University Questrom School of Business. He resides in the Boston, MA area with his wife and children.

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