5 Trends Affecting Online Education in 2014

The environment for colleges and universities at the conclusion of 2013 appears rather bleak. Some of us may be saying “Good riddance” to 2013 and many are worried as we look to 2014. Below are five trends that can affect online education in the coming year, and for years to come. Understanding their impact and bracing for change can help institutions stay effective and relevant.

Trend No. 1: Declining Unemployment

For most industries, a declining unemployment rate is good news because it means people will have more income to purchase goods and services.  The opposite is true for higher education, however.  College enrollments are inversely correlated with employment rates.  Rising employment rates mean there are fewer people going to college.  The number of U.S. college students has declined two years in a row and demographers predict more of the same.

2014Unemployment-Chart


Trend No. 2: Declining Number of High School Students

Beginning in 2014, the number of 18 to 24 year olds in the United States is going to begin a six- to seven-year decline.  Fewer high school graduates entering college will contribute to the pressure on declining college enrollments.

2014US-Population


Trend No. 3: Tuition Rising Faster than Financial Aid and Inflation

The gap between tuition and aid is widening.   As college tuition consumes a larger percentage of family income, more students and parents cannot afford to pay.  This will also put downward pressure on enrollments.

2014Tuition-vs-Inflation


Trend No. 4: Many More People Without Degrees than With

By 2020, about 34 million Americans will have bachelor’s degrees, and another 18 million will have some college education, including associate degrees. In absolute numbers, there will be 112 million people who could potentially earn a college degree–still a significant market for higher education.

Employment by Education

Education Level

Number (in 000s)

% Change

2010

2020E

Bachelor’s Degree or Higher

28,567

33,576

17.5%

Some Postsecondary (Below Bachelor’s)

15,331

18,014

17.5%

High School or Less

99,172

111,993

12.9%

Total

143,068

163,582

14.3%

Source: BMO Capital Markets and Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Outlook, 2010-2020

Trend No. 5: Online Degree Options Missing in Many Fields at Many Colleges

2013 surveys of chief academic officers at both public (The American Association of State Colleges and Universities) and private (The Council of Independent Colleges) institutions found that most do not offer online programs in many fields, despite a desire for such programs from students. For example, 81 percent of public and 87 percent of private colleges do not offer online programs in computer science, the third most-desired program by online students.

 Programs Not Offered Online at Either the Graduate or Undergraduate Level

Fields of Study

AASCU

CIC

Psychology/counseling

84

71

STEM

81

92

Computer science

81

87

Social sciences

70

88

Liberal arts/humanities

71

83

Criminal justice/paralegal studies

71

72

Business

45

34

Education

43

48

Health professions

38

5


Making 2014 Successful

One powerful conclusion comes to mind after considering these five trends and data points: there is opportunity for colleges and universities who can offer online programs that people need, cost effectively.

Many years ago I read an article about a successful farmer who had been selected from an international sample. His response to the question, “To what do you attribute your success?” has stuck with me.  His answer was, “The hard times.” He went on to explain that when times were good, when rain was plentiful and prices were high, he did what he had always done.  Same seeds, same fertilizer, same techniques.  The hard times forced him to adapt, innovate, and try new things to survive and thrive.  The current “hard times” for colleges and universities may be the key to long-term success if we adapt, innovate and try new things.

About David Clinefelter

Dr. David Clinefelter, Chief Academic Officer at Learning House, has 30 years of experience in the industry, spanning the pre-Internet delivery of classes via fiber optic cable, correspondence courses delivered via the U.S. Mail and fully online universities. Dr. Clinefelter served as the President of Graceland University, and as Chief Academic Officer at both Kaplan University and Walden University. He can be reached at dclinefelter@learninghouse.com.