The 2017 Online College Student Report: Top Five Takeaways


By: Katherine Flores Jun 30, 2017

How and Why Prospective Online Students Enroll

As higher education leaders, you know how important it is to understand the growing online student population. But to meet the needs of this burgeoning sector of students, you should understand their preferences and demands for online learning. You’ll find this information and more in The 2017 Online College Student Report, a groundbreaking report frequently cited by US News & World Report in articles about online college students. Find out the “why” factors that potential students consider and care about when they enroll in online programs. This comprehensive report, based on a survey of 1,500 online students, delves into their preferences so you can better understand, entice, and enroll them. The 2017 Online College Student Report delivers five robust, relevant sections for easy understanding and application. It’s more critical than ever to stand out in the increasingly crowded online education market. The study’s data-rich insights give you the crucial edge you need to successfully compete in a crowded market. Check out some key insights below to see why this report will give you an edge over your peers.

#1 Win the Recruitment Race:

School Search – Students are expanding their searches to more schools (20% more than last year) and 80% use their mobile devices in the process. So, not only is it more competitive out there, but schools also need to be mobile-friendly. Although many prospective online students are expanding their searches to more schools, they still see an advantage to “going local,” with nearly 60% visiting campus at least a few times a year to meet with teachers and/or fellow students. Sell Yourself – No matter what your strategy for reaching online college students, keep in mind that the majority today (58%) say they knew the specific academic program they wanted from the very beginning of their search. This means their search is very specific right from stage one. So, be ready to deliver and keep in mind that, in many cases, you won’t have to sell them on the ideal program – but you definitely have to sell your school as the best provider of that program.

#2 Gain Enrollments:

A key insight from the report shows school responsiveness can be the difference between just reaching a student and actually enrolling them. Two-thirds decide where to apply in four weeks or less. That means they not only expect a speedy reply, but you may lose them completely if you don’t respond within that window. Why is the prompt response so crucial? This is not only because you could lose them to a competitor. It’s also because online college students want to know about potential financial aid and transferring credits before committing to the rigmarole of an entire application process.

#3 Learning Experience Matters:

Career-Focused – Prospective students today are practical and career-focused. They seek an education that will lead to a new job or a promotion. They also are seeking useful, career-related competencies, not just learning for the sake of itself. This has led to more interest than ever in competency-based online programs. These factors also show up in their primary motivations for enrolling and for enrolling in an online program and career goals are paramount. In fact, 80% cite career-focused reasons for starting their online college search.

#4 Never Fear Financial Factors:

Program is #1 Priority – Key data insights reveal that, although price is a factor, it’s not the only one. A quarter of students said that they chose their school primarily because it best matched their interest, which is more than those for whom cost was their primary factor at 15%. This represents a change from prior years and likely is an indicator of an improving economy. Credits vs. Aid – Interestingly, among undergraduate students, credit transfer also plays a critical role for prospective students. 59% said they’d prefer to know how much of their previous credit will transfer before submitting an application. Whereas, when asked when they’d prefer to find out how much financial aid they’d get, nearly half (47%) said before they submit their application. Credits and financial aid are both economic factors because transferring more credits means taking fewer classes (and spending less money) to meet degree requirements. However, these stats seem to indicate that students care more about taking fewer classes (a result of credit transfers) than they do upfront financial aid.

#5 The Big Payoff:

Winning Results – One particularly inspiring takeaway from the 2017 Online College Student Report shines a light on an exceptional payoff for online students. Namely that 76% said their online program did indeed help them achieve the goal that motivated them to enroll. What a difference you can make in their lives! For the real scoop, charts, and substance, download the 2017 Online College Student Report. As an added bonus, the study, conducted by The Learning House, Inc. and Aslanian Market Research, also offers many useful and productive conclusions far beyond what we’ve started here.