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Is Online Education Growing?

January 22, 2015 Digital Media Solutions

A recent article on the blog e-Literate challenges the previously held notion that online education is continuing to grow and become the prominent choice for higher educational learning in the United States. Surprised to see this, we took a look at state, program and degree level data to compare notes.

Across the US, online inquiry volume in 2014 is down an average of 42 percent from 2012 and 39 percent from 2013. Most (if not all) states fell 25-35 percent in 2014. So on the surface, it appears that demand is down.

The drop in conversions (applications, enrollments or starts) for online programs is approximately 25-35 percent. This may be the result of schools working to reduce and optimize their online marketing presence and demanding fewer, higher quality inquiries, as we have noted in our quarterly trend analysis reports.

Programs in the business and homeland security categories (mostly criminal justice degrees) drive the average inquiry volume decline for online programs. But there are a few program types that managed to achieve results that were slightly better than average:

  • Health programs (like nursing and medical billing and coding): Down at a lower rate – 20 percent from 2013
  • Psychology: Managed to stay pretty flat, only dropping 1.3 percent from 2013
  • Liberal studies and communications: Actually increased – up 9.2 percent from 2013

While we do also see growth in smaller program categories, like engineering and precision production, this may be more due to the variability between schools and new programs rather than an overall trend.

Looking at data by degree type, undergraduate and lower programs declined the most, while master’s and doctorate degrees decreased in volume very slightly. Certificate degree inquiry volume managed to remain relatively flat, while conversion volume for this level program actually increased.


All in all, our global data agrees with that assessment made by Phil Hill in the article referenced above. According to our data, online programs inquiry volume has decreased significantly over the past two years with conversion volume also declining at a lower rate.

About the Author

Digital Media Solutions

Founded by a team of lifelong athletes, Digital Media Solutions (DMS), the fastest-growing independent digital performance marketing company. The company’s set of proprietary assets and capabilities in the world of performance marketing and marketing technology allow clients to meticulously target and acquire the right customers. DMS relentlessly pursues flawless execution for top brands within highly complex and competitive industries including mortgage, education, insurance, consumer brands, careers and automotive.

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