2016 Online College Students: Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences

By Jael Greene

The annual Online College Students report was recently released, examining survey results of 1,500 prospective, current and recently graduated students in online higher education programs. It is expected that 3.5 million students will be working towards online degrees in 2016 and that number is projected to continue growing.

Among the report’s findings:

  • The average age of online students has been decreasing over the course of the last four years.
    • In 2016 the average age of an online undergraduate student was 29 years old, down from 34 years old in 2012.
    • The average age of an online graduate student in 2016 was 33 years old, down from 35 years old in 2012.
  • Additionally, online students have increasingly chosen to enroll in institutions with a campus near their home.
    • Approximately 55% of online students chose an online program with a campus within 50 miles of their home and 75% chose a program within 100 miles of their home.
  • The vast majority of online students found value in their online program.
    • 73% of undergraduate students and 71% of graduate students felt that their online programs were worth the investment of their time.
    • 70% of undergraduates and 69% of graduates felt that their online programs were worth the financial investment.
  • When asked questions regarding customer service, online students reported that faster and better customer service was a major factor in selecting an institution.
    • Increasingly students are enrolling in the first school to respond to their inquiries (49% of undergraduate students and 57% of graduate students).
  • Cost is a major concern for online students and they use an assortment of methods to pay for their coursework.
    • 44% use personal funds, 38% take out student loans, 29% utilize government grants and 20% receive tuition benefits from their employer.
  • From the results of the survey, it appears that online programs are helping expand higher education access to populations that are unable to study in a traditional classroom setting.
    • Nearly half of online students said they would not have, probably would not have, or are unsure if they would have attended their current program if it had not been offered online.