Fall 2022 IPEDS Data: Profile of US Higher Ed Online Education

Post-pandemic data point to structural change of more online learning - well above prior growth trends

Was this forwarded to you by a friend? Sign up, and get your own copy of the news that matters sent to your inbox every week. Sign up for the On EdTech newsletter. Interested in additional analysis? Try with our 30-day free trial and Upgrade to the On EdTech+ newsletter.

This weekend we released a new episode of our Online Education Across the Atlantic podcast with Neil Mosley, titled “For Whom The Bell Tolls, Time Marches On”, where we discuss the increasing reports of financial stress at higher ed institutions both in the US and UK, trying to find positive angles in coverage.

On to the update.

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 2022 data were just released. You can find the most recent Fall IPEDS profiles for these years:

Also note that we have covered the 12-month HeadCount IPEDS data (which counts all students at an institution over each year, compared to the census method of the Fall data) in this most recent post.

What makes this year’s data most interesting is that it appears that structurally we have moved well above the pre-pandemic linear growth trend for online education enrollments. More on that later in the post.

Additional 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).

  • For the most part distance education (DE) and online education terms are interchangeable.

  • Exclusive DE is for students taking all courses online; Some DE is for students taking some (but not all) courses online; At Least One DE, or ALO DE is a combination of exclusive and some DE. No DE is for students taking all courses face-to-face.

  • I am using Adjusted Sector to categorize the data, as this removes the numerous sector changes since 2012 where a 2-year institution adds a small number of bachelor’s degrees and is reclassified by IPEDS as a 4-year institution. This despite the predominant degree offering being a 2-year associate’s degree. I believe this gives a more accurate representation of how each type of institution is faring.

Table View

Below is a profile of online education in the US for degree-granting colleges and university, broken out by sector for Fall 2022.

Initial Observations

The significance of the Fall 2022 data release is that it is the first one that gives insight into the post-pandemic structural changes to higher education enrollments. By Fall 2022, most institutions (but not all, particularly in California) were back in normal operations in terms of not having required remote courses or campus closures. This year is not a pure post-pandemic view, but it does give insight.

Combining with last year’s profile, Total enrollments decreased from 18.76 million students to 18.65 million overall, Exclusive DE enrollments decreased from 5.73 to 4.97 million, Some DE enrollments decreased from 5.56 to 5.17 million, and No DE enrollments increased from 7.47 to 8.52 million.

A more useful comparison is to Fall 2019 to remove the worst of the pandemic distortion. Combining with the Fall 2019 profile, Total enrollments decreased from 19.68 million students to 18.65 million overall, Exclusive DE enrollments increased from 3.47 to 4.97 million, Some DE enrollments increased from 3.87 to 5.17 million, and No DE enrollments decreased from 12.34 to 8.52 million. In percentage terms, Exclusive DE enrollments increased from 17.6% to 26.6%, Some DE enrollments increased from 19.6% to 27.7%, and No DE enrollments decreased from 62.7% to 45.7%.

To get a sense of the growth of in the number of students taking at least one online course (which combines those in fully-online programs with those mixing face-to-face and online courses), this chart displays the trend in absolute numbers (left axis) and percentage per year (text labels).

In absolute numbers, you can see that the post-pandemic reduction in online education came from the Exclusive DE category, as Some DE enrollments slightly increased from Fall 2020 to Fall 2022.

To the extent that Fall 2022 data give insights into the structural changes to online education - those that will persist in future years - note that the differences highlighted above in bold above represent a jump above the linear increases seen 2012 - 2019.

To get a sense if state-level policies were still impacting online modalities in 2022, consider the ALO chart for California & New York combined (which had relatively strict stay-remote policies) vs. Florida & Texas (which encouraged the end of stay-remote policies).

While there was a bigger jump from 2019 to 2020 in online options in the California & New York group (from 27.4% to 75.8%) than in Florida & Texas (from 41.1% to 77.6%), by 2022 the trends seemed to have stabilized. Note that the CA & NY and the FL & TX 2022 levels are both well above the linear trends were pointing pre-pandemic. There are signs that we have a nonlinear jump in online education, not just a return to prior growth.

Additional Analysis

If you’ve been considering whether to upgrade to a premium subscription, now may be a good time to use the 30-day free trial. I plan to post additional data views in future On EdTech+ posts.

Update Jan 21: Fixed errors in increase / decrease language. Fixed title.