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IPEDS Fall 2019: Largest Institutions by Online Enrollments In US With Trends Since 2012

Earlier this week I shared a profile of US online education enrollment based on the new IPEDS Fall Enrollment 2019 data set – the final pre-pandemic national distance education (DE) profile. I then shared a view DE enrollment trends in this post. In this final(?) post on the new data, let’s look at the institutions with the top online enrollments along with some of the trends.

As a reminder on the data usage:

  • 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 typically 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). In this post I use both terms.

  • 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.

  • Fall Enrollment does not capture all students within a year, as it is a census approach. I am using the Fall Enrollment metric since that is where IPEDS captures DE data.

Table view of top institutions by exclusively online enrollments, also showing some online and no online enrollments

In this view, I’ve sorted the institutions by the number of students taking exclusively online courses. Also note that I’ve color-coded the enrollments by control of institution:

  • Red = for-profit

  • Yellow = private nonprofit

  • Blue = public

Now let’s look at trends for the top institutions by students taking at least one online course (combining exclusive DE and some DE categories from IPEDS).

Top institutions by enrollment of students taking at least one online course over time, 2012 - 2019

You’ll notice that I scaled the image so that it cuts off much of the 2012 – 2016 University of Phoenix DE enrollments. That was done to avoid the huge drop in that school’s enrollment (from 260k down to 95k) making the rest of the data unreadable. Just mentally extrapolate that red line.

Also notice that by using the at least one online course metric, that Arizona State University rises to fifth place.

Finally, combining those two views (table of at least one online enrollments along with trend data in the form of sparklines), we get the following:

IPEDS Fall 2019 Top 30 institutions by number of students taking at least one online course

I hope the data and visualizations are helpful as people view the last pre-pandemic US higher education enrollment data.

Update 3/5: Updated Penn State U data to account for changes in how different campuses are classified in IPEDS data.