Fall 2021 Largest Institutions by Total Enrollment and DE Type

Based on reader request after yesterday’s post, I’d like to share another view of largest US higher education institutions, this one ranked by total enrollment with color coding of distance education (DE) type. This chart combines undergrad and grad student enrollments. [full-page audio link]

  • 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). In this post I use both terms.

  • Exclusive DE is for students taking all courses online; Some DE is for students taking some courses online but not all; No DE is for students taking all courses face-to-face.

Top 30 institutions by total fall 2021 enrollment, with DE type shown
  • The sea of blue should give a sense of just how important fully-online programs are for the largest institutions, in particular for Western Governors University, Southern New Hamshire University, Grand Canyon University, Liberty, University, University of Phoenix, University of the People, and University of Maryland Global Campus. For those institutions, the vast majority (or all) of their enrollments come from fully-online students (Exclusive DE in blue).

  • By way of contrast, none of the largest 30 institutions have the vast majority of enrollments for students taking all face-to-face courses (No DE in yellow). The closest exceptions are Ivy Tech Community College and University of Washington – Seattle.

  • In between, you can see the large influence of mixed-mode students – (Some DE in red, those taking both types of courses).

To get a sense of how much higher education has changed in the past decade, consider this same chart from 2012.

Top 30 institutions by total fall 2012 enrollment, with DE type shown
  • 10 years ago, the University of Phoenix was dominant – both in terms of total enrollment and DE enrollment.

  • Also note that all of the Top 30 institutions that had more than half of enrollments in fully-online programs were for-profit schools.

  • There were far fewer enrollments in the Some DE category; students tended to take all online or all face-to-face courses to a far greater degree.

Hopefully these views gives a better sense of the role of DE enrollments within the context of total enrollments.