In fall 2007, the study reports, some 3.94 million students enrolled in at least one online course, an increase of 12.9 % over the previous year. That falls between the 9.7% growth for fall 2006 and the 19.7 compound annual rate since fall 2002. In comparison, total student enrollments increased 1.2 % in the year leading up to last fall, while the compound annual rate for all enrollments since 2002 was 1.6 %. 'Clearly there will be a limit on the growth of online enrollments; however the current data show that this limit has not yet been reached, as double-digit growth rates continue for yet another year,' says the report, part of an annual survey by the Sloan Consortium, which tracks online learning trends.
And the growth might continue thanks to a stagnating economy, according to most of the survey's respondents, which would align with previous experience in which a deteriorating job market leads to more enrollments. The trend also reinforces reports earlier this year that community colleges, especially, were encouraging students to take courses online to save on commuting costs. The study, 'Staying the Course: Online Education in the United States, 2008,' was produced with the College Board and the Babson Survey Research Group at Babson College. The results were compiled from an annual College Board survey with over 2,500 responses, a response rate of 57.4 %. Illustrating the rapid growth of enrollments over the past decade, over a fifth of all American students in higher education took at least one online course in fall 2007. At the same time, the report found what may be a plateau in the percentage of institutions that online education as critical to their long-term strategy.