Distance Ed Enrollments Under National SARA Grow by 5%

By Rachael Stachowiak

Nearly 1.3 million students were enrolled exclusively in distance-education programs at institutions participating in National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA) in fall 2018, according to new data from NC-SARA’s fourth annual enrollment report.

That’s a 5% increase over fall 2017 data, illustrating continued growing demand for postsecondary distance-education opportunities.

The data provide a more complete national picture of online enrollments, and now distance-learning activities. The data collected by NC-SARA help answer the question of which institutions are enrolling online students and where those students are located.

The most recent report includes two new data points. The first includes both in-state and out-of-state students studying in 100% online programs at SARA institutions; and the second captures the number of out-of-state learning placements (for example, internships and clinical placements) and how those activities span various program areas.

“The data confirm what we knew anecdotally to be true—a lot of public institutions are serving their state citizens with online learning,” Lori Williams, CEO and president of NC-SARA, told Inside Higher Ed. “We know that campus-based students tend to go to schools within a 50-mile radius of their home, and we thought that something similar was happening online. Now we have the data to support that assertion.”

Key findings from the report include:

  • Public institutions made up 53% (just over 1.49 million) of total reported distance-education enrollments. Most distance education students at public institutions are located in-state (1.2 million).
  • Private nonprofit institutions represented 30% (836,644) of total reported distance-education enrollments. The majority of distance education students at private nonprofit institutions are located out-of-state (569,364).
  • Private for-profit institutions made up 17% (475,505) of total reported distance-education enrollments, and two tribal institutions represent the remaining 501 enrollments.
  • Although for-profit enrollments went up slightly over 2018, overall distance education enrollments at for-profit institutions have declined by over 100,000 since 2017.
  • With more than 47,000 students enrolled its online programming, the University of Maryland Global Campus has the largest total distance education enrollment among public institutions. Arizona State University and Purdue University Global follow with 36,785 and 30,061 enrollments, respectively.
  • Western Governors University reported the largest total enrollment among private nonprofit institutions (120,876 distance learning students).
  • SARA institutions located in the six New England states enrolled 123,151out-of-state students in programs that are 100% online. NEBHE’s affiliate members, New Jersey and New York, enrolled 45,059 out-of-state students in programs that are 100% online.

Click the following links to read the full report and access the dataset.

Rachael Stachowiak is associate director of SARA at NEBHE.

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