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Fall 2019 IPEDS Data: Final Pre-Pandemic Profile of US Higher Ed Online Education

The National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) and its Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) provide the most official data on colleges and universities in the United States. I have been analyzing and sharing the data since the inaugural Fall 2012 dataset, and the Fall 2019 data were just released. This is significant in that it is the last pre-pandemic data set to be released – Fall 2020 should be fascinating but largely driven by institutional reactions to the pandemic.

Data Notes

Please note the following:

  • There are multiple ways to filter and select data. For this set (as with previous analyses for consistency’s sake), I have limited to U.S. degree-granting institutions in six sectors – public 4-year, private 4-year, for profit 4-year, public 2-year, private 2-year, and for profit 2-year. For undergraduate totals I have included degree-seeking and non-degree-seeking students (degree-granting institutions can offer non-degree programs). This will give different totals than other reporting methods. In particular, note that the IPEDS data view summary includes less than 2-year degrees and also includes non degree-granting institutions, leading to slightly higher numbers than shown below.

  • For the most part distance education (DE) and online education terms are interchangeable, but they are not equivalent as DE can include courses delivered by a medium other than the Internet (e.g. correspondence course).

  • Exclusively DE is for students taking all courses online; Some DE is for students taking some courses online but not all; At Least One DE, or ALO DE is a combination of exclusive and some DE.

  • There are two tabs in the interactive graphic – the first shows totals for the US by sector and by level (grad, undergrad); the second shows a map view allowing filtering by sector.

Initial Observations

The headline appears to me that we are seeing the same trends – growth of online, decline of fully face-to-face (no online) enrollment – with the 2018 – 19 changes very similar to the 2017 – 18 changes. From 2016 – 2017, the percentage of all students taking at least one online course rose from 31.4% to 33.7% (2.3%), but from 2017 – 2018 it rose from 33.7% to 35.4% (1.7%) and from 2018 – 2019 it rose from 35.4% to 37.2% (1.8%). I plan to do a separate analysis of DE trends over time, but the initial data show a healthy but lower level of growth for online education enrollment. Grad DE enrollment (at least one online course) grew faster at 2.7% than did undergrad (1.8%).

  • For Undergraduates, in absolute numbers exclusively online enrollment increased by 216k, some online enrollment increased 290k, and no online enrollment decreased by 696k since Fall 2017.

  • For Graduates, exclusively online enrollment increased 134k, some online enrollment increased 26k, and no online enrollment decreased 87k since Fall 2017.

Table View

Below is a profile of online education in the US for degree-granting colleges and university, broken out by sector and for each state for the most recent, Fall 2019, data.

Table view of DE enrollment per sector, showing enrollment numbers and percentages for exclusive online course, some online course, and no online course enrollments

Map View

Below is the map view of state data colored by number of, and percentage of, students taking at least one online class for each sector. In the interactive view, if you hover over any state you can get the basic data.

Map view of DE enrollment per state, based on percentage of students taking at least one online course, filtered by sector

Interactive View

For those of you who have made it this far, you can find the interactive graphic here. Enjoy the data.

Using Idaho community colleges as an example of data available in the interactive view:

View of Idaho community colleges DE enrollment types