Fully Online Market Concentration

Signs that the market for online learning in the US has become less concentrated

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Following on from Phil’s post yesterday about trends in the National Center for Education Statistic’s IPEDS data on distance education (i.e., online education), I wanted to drill down into one of the data points he mentioned.

The data shows that the market for online learning in the US has become less concentrated since the pandemic.

In terms of market concentration, the Top 50 (by exclusively DE enrollment) institutions pre-pandemic accounted for roughly 38% of all exclusively DE enrollments nationwide. By the end of the pandemic that number was just 31%, reflecting the large and wide adoption of online learning during the pandemic.

In this post I want to dig a little deeper into that fact and explore some of the implications of this trend.


A couple of years ago I had become intrigued by the extent to which the market for online learning was concentrated among the biggest players. A McKinsey report laid out the degree to which the market was concentrated, as shown in this graphic.

McKinsey & Company

I was interested to see how that concentration had changed as online learning has continued to grow, especially after the pandemic turbo charged online learning.

2019-2022 data and decreasing market concentration

Looking at the data from the year after the data McKinsey analyzed we already see signs of a loosening up of the market. This and the following chart show the exclusive DE (i.e., fully online) enrollments per institution, with the bold numbers showing the cumulative percentage of all exclusive DE enrollments for institutions ranked from largest to smallest.

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