Online Enrollments Up But Hard Times at Nonprofit Conversions

Taking another look at National Student Clearinghouse data and public reports on nonprofit conversions

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In a recent post covering Coursera’s earnings release, I described how the data bolstered the view of US higher ed online enrollment growth in 2022 and beyond (vs. an ongoing post-pandemic retreat). The view was, of course, OPM-centric.

If I put this all together, I’d say that recent news shows that US higher education has an increasing demand for online education - both fully-online programs and online courses augmenting on-campus programs - and that the demand levels have increased above pre-pandemic trends. However, not all programs and institutions are seeing growth, and the biggest differentiator appears to be strategic management at the institutions and online partners.

The reason I’m covering evidence and anecdotes is that the only comprehensive view is from IPEDS, which runs a full year behind (e.g., Fall 2022 data released one month ago). But the deeper one looks at these pieces of evidence, the more support there is to see continuing increases in fully-online enrollments.

Re-looking at National Student Clearinghouse

The National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) releases Current Term Enrollments, which as its name suggest, is for the most-recently completed current term. Thus the most recent January data was for Fall 2023. One challenge from the NSC data is that it is not comprehensive in nature. NSC does not release institution-level data for people like me to analyze, and the views it releases change each term. Further, NSC only breaks out Primarily Online Institutions (POI) enrollments, for those institutions with more than 90% of students are in fully-online programs. POI captures 20% or less of total online enrollments, but it is another piece of evidence to consider.

For example, Southern New Hampshire University and Western Governors University are POIs, but Arizona State University and University of Central Florida are not.

What I had missed in January is that NSC did in fact release POI data, it’s just that it was combined with multi-state institutions and released in the geographic / states & regions view. By choosing this option, you can now see total / undergraduate / graduate enrollment data for POIs. In this view, the blues are states with year-over-year (YoY) enrollment increases for fully-online, and the orange for decreases.

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