The Online College Students Report 2024

By: Jesse Homan Feb 27, 2024

The Online College Students Report 2024

Understanding the Motivations and Needs of Online College Students

Online college students aren’t taking chances with their education. They’re strategic planners, carefully researching programs, calculating costs and benefits, and seeking the perfect fit for their ambitions. These career-driven learners demand flexible options that seamlessly integrate with their busy lives. Understanding this shift in mindset is crucial for colleges and universities.

EducationDynamics, a leader in higher education marketing, recognizes the strategic nature of modern students. Our annual Online College Students 2024 report, based on a survey of over 3,000 individuals actively pursuing or considering online programs, dives deep into their needs and preferences. This invaluable resource provides institutions with the insights needed to optimize their enrollment strategies for this goal-oriented and discerning student population.

The data highlights a timely, personalized, and supportive approach throughout the enrollment process. By understanding the unique needs of online learners, colleges and universities can refine their marketing, nurturing, and coaching practices to help students make informed decisions while achieving their educational goals. This report provides a valuable roadmap for institutions seeking to successfully attract and support this growing population of modern students.

Selected from over 100 insights, here are some key findings from our survey:

Top Findings from the Online College Students 2024 Report

Pay particular attention to reenrolling students who have stopped out

Many students who stop out still harbor a desire to complete their degrees. Reenrolling them offers a second chance to achieve their educational goals, empowering them to reach their full potential. Paying attention to reenrolling students who have previously stopped out is crucial. More than 90% of respondents had stopped out before reenrolling in an online program, highlighting a significant pool of potential candidates. Re-enrolling stopped-out students offers an opportunity for colleges and universities to re-engage familiar faces and leverage their existing knowledge of the institution. When students are considering only one or two institutions, familiarity can be a decisive advantage.

By reaching out to stopped-out students with rapid response and tailored outreach, institutions can streamline the re-enrollment process, significantly impacting enrollment rates.

More than 90% of respondents had stopped out before reenrolling in an online program.

Contact inquiring students rapidly to match the speed of their decision-making process

An infographic that contains the insight that online college student begin their search by focusing on a smaller number of schools. 33% of students are considering 3 schools, 32% are considering 2 schools and 14% are considering only one school.

Online students move fast. They’ve navigated a sea of information, narrowed down their options, and they’re ready to move forward. About 67% of respondents only inquired about one or two institutions, and 45% applied to only one school. When they reach out to a school, they’re looking for validation. Contacting them back quickly seals the deal; a slow response can leave them feeling underwhelmed and ready to move on. With only a handful of schools on their radar, a quick response can be the deciding factor in securing their enrollment. Matching the fast decision-making processes is critical to capturing their interest and securing enrollments.

Attract students from further away by offering unique or highly relevant programs

Motivated online students won’t let geography restrict their educational aspirations. Schools with specialized or highly relevant programs can tap into a more comprehensive, national, and even international pool of potential learners who are willing to invest in quality education, even if it means going beyond their local area.

This presents a significant opportunity for institutions to expand their reach and attract a diverse student body. While over 60 percent of respondents express a preference for enrolling at an institution within an hour of their home or office, it’s crucial to recognize that this preference is not a dealbreaker. In fact, a significant two-thirds did not consider distance to be of high importance, and nearly 60 percent even stated they would enroll anywhere that offered the right program for them.

An infographic that says most online college students stay in-state for college, but 60% are willing to enroll anywhere for the right program. The graphic shows two charts: the first chart on the left is a bar chart detailing the distance the student is from the school they enrolled in. 35% of undergraduate students are 0-30 minutes away. On the right are two data points: 73% of online students are enrolled in their state of resident. The other is that 60% are willing to enroll anywhere for the right program

Institutions can leverage this opportunity by highlighting distinctive offerings that appeal to a broader audience. By focusing on program quality and relevance, institutions can break down geographical barriers and empower students to pursue their educational goals regardless of location.

Optimize college websites for discoverability in search and ease of navigation

With the majority of online learners beginning their search online, SEO is no longer optional – it’s essential. Institutions that optimize their websites for discoverability stand to capture the attention of potential students early in their decision-making process, increasing their chances of securing enrollment. 42% of respondents initiated their online program search through either search engines (like Google) or directly visiting school websites. This finding highlights the crucial role of online presence in reaching potential students early in their consideration process.

An infographic that states prospective students are initiating their online program search primarily through either search engines or directly visiting school websites. It shows the following data points: 42% start their search on Google, 38% start on the school website, 9% call or email the school 6% do something else, and 4% follow the school on social media.

Vibrant SEO strategies across the pages on your website that contain the information prospective students are interested in have never been more critical. Remember, this is the stage where students are just beginning to explore their options, forming initial impressions and narrowing down their choices. A user-friendly and informative website can make all the difference in keeping you on their radar and ultimately increasing your chances of securing enrollment.

Leverage Over 100 Charted Insights for Strategic Enrollment Growth

The complete Online College Students 2024 report, comprising over 100 insights meticulously charted, offers a comprehensive understanding of the audience that drives enrollment growth for online programs. For institutions seeking to develop long-term enrollment and outreach strategies, the report serves as an invaluable resource.

Our extensive analysis of the Online College Students report highlights crucial areas for improvement in serving the modern online learner:

  • Invest in User-Centered Websites: Potential students demand easy access to essential information, especially tuition and fees. Institutions must prioritize clear, user-friendly websites that showcase this information prominently to avoid losing students early in the process.
  • Meet the Needs of the “Some College, No Degree” Segment: This vastly underserved market presents a significant growth opportunity. Institutions need to address the specific concerns and needs of these students – such as debt, transfer credits, and confidence-building – to successfully attract and support them.
  • Tap into the Potential of Non-Degree Programs: A growing interest in online certificates and credentials signifies a need for institutions to adapt their program offerings and marketing strategies. Cater to this evolving market with tailored non-degree options.

While these are just a few of the over 100 data points and insights explored in the full report, they offer a powerful glimpse into the evolving online student landscape. The Online College Students Report provides a comprehensive resource for higher education institutions seeking to excel in online learning. By understanding student needs, optimizing online channels, and developing targeted strategies for key student populations, colleges and universities can effectively engage and enroll the modern online learner.

A decorative graphic CTA for the 13th annual Online College Students Report 2024. There is a red button that says "Download Now" and on the right is a image of the report on a tablet screen.

Download the full Online College Students 2024 Report for actionable data, in-depth analysis, and additional insights to inform your online student recruitment and enrollment strategies.