Foundational Insight: Online Higher Education Market Update 2012/13 Confronting Market Maturity and New Competition Executive Summary

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1 Foundational Insight: Online Higher Education Market Update 2012/13 Confronting Market Maturity and New Competition Executive Summary

2 Online Higher Education Market Update 2012/13: Confronting Market Maturity and New Competition December 2012 Executive Summary In the past, analysis of the online higher education market in the United States was a matter of tracking growth. Since the 1990s, online students and revenue have boomed. By 2010, Eduventures estimates that the number of online students had passed 2.5 million, representing more than 10% of all students in U.S. higher education and more than 30% of adult students older than 25. Online higher education blossomed into a $25-billion industry. The online higher education value proposition, convenience, and flexibility over the traditional campus resonated with consumers struggling to make college compatible with work and family. It spoke to adults discontented with low wages or aspiring to change careers, ever-more conscious that a first or second degree is essential to membership in the middle class. Regulators rolled back rules that limited access to federal aid for distance learning students. Online enabled schools, both for-profit and non-profit, to reach new kinds of students, reinvent continuing education, and break out of geographical boundaries to serve the national market. In 2012, however, something changed. The market became more crowded, and higher education enrollment overall has shrunk two years in a row. Even online growth is harder to come by, and greenfield markets by program are more difficult to find. The regulatory environment is more conservative and uncertain. Forprofit schools, among the pioneers of online higher education, are on the back foot, spinning in the vicious circle of bad press and declining enrollment. Numerous non-profit schools, including toptier colleges and universities, are starting to take online seriously, but supply risks overwhelming demand. Whether for-profit or nonprofit, tougher questions are being asked about the online student experience and program outcomes. There s no question that online has outperformed in terms of access to higher education, but the perennial challenges of cost, quality, and attainment continue to 1

3 plague higher education as a whole, and the contribution of online is muted. New competition has burst onto the scene, most notably Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), offering an array of alternative providers, credentials, and business models. In 2012, is the online growth run coming to an end? Is conventional online higher education running out of ideas? Perhaps online is simply moving into the mainstream, promising modest growth for everyone. Should we look to MOOCs and other pretenders to reinvigorate this market? Eduventures Online Higher Education Market Update 2012/13 addresses the online allocation across four key themes: 1) Decline. After years of strong growth, higher education enrollment is in reverse. This applies to both traditional-age and adult students, undergraduate and graduate level, and all types of schools. 2) Maturity. Online higher education is still growing but mature it is too large to be immune to broader trends and needs to enhance value if it is to break free from current market constraints and avoid a slowdown. 3) Innovation. MOOCs are the first serious challenge to traditional online higher education and a good guide to where innovation is needed affordability, quality, and return on investment. 4) Strategy. As schools rush into the online market to address frictions in the core business, supply risks overwhelming demand. The United States needs better online to address the challenges ahead. Depending on school type and circumstance, this might mean any of the following: local, niche, or new markets; tighter employer relations; hybrid pedagogy; a more compelling student experience; and robust, reported outcomes. Better Online might mean an embrace of traditional fragmentation, radical consolidation, or many shades in between. Online Higher Education Estimates, Forecasts and What s Next Which Way Is Online Enrollment Trending? Given the enrollment slowdown across higher education generally, how is online faring? In our 2011 report, Eduventures anticipated the recent decline in overall student numbers but forecast that online headcount would continue to grow. However, we argued that online growth would not be indefinite, even medium-term. We predicted a steady slowing of the growth rate to near-zero by mid-to-late decade, in a context of flat or declining enrollment for higher education overall. As discussed above, official Fall 2011 student numbers declined a little less severely than Eduventures predicted, but the general trend, for both overall and online students, has been borne out. Indeed, the data from the National Student Clearinghouse strongly suggests that Fall 2012 enrollment fell further. Many schools are paying increased attention to online programs and adult learners, resulting in modest bursts of enrollment from a low base, but many more established providers are seeing slowing growth or struggling to hold ground. We stand by our overall online growth model and forecast that was first presented in our Online Higher Education Market Update In this report, Figure 1 shows our slightly revised online headcount estimates and forecast. It is important to note that Figure 1 is concerned with traditional online higher education only students enrolled in 100% or primarily online degrees and for-credit certificate 2

4 programs at accredited, Title IV-eligible institutions. Students taking one or more online courses as part of an otherwise face-to-face study experience are excluded. Non-credit online students including students enrolled in MOOCs, which so far remain essentially non-credit, and some of which are offered by unaccredited entities are also excluded. As online higher education at its broadest continues to evolve, significant parallel online markets may develop that may merit distinct tracking by Eduventures. Please see below for further commentary on MOOCs. Figure 1. Taking Stock 6,000,000 5,000,000 4,000,000 3,000,000 2,000,000 1,000, , ,370 Estimated online growth Percentage of growth 991, ,139,714 2,482,068 2,779,916 3,030,138 3,519,648 5,032,044 20% 16% 16% 12% 9% 7% 13% 7% 4% 2% 2% 2% 160% 140% 120% 100% 80% 60% 40% 20% 0% Source: IPEDS, HLC, Eduventures Online Database and Eduventures analysis. Online headcount is defined as students who are enrolled at least 80% online and excludes students taking one or more online courses as part of an otherwise face-to-face experience. Consolidation or Fragmentation? One interpretation of weaker enrollment among the largest online schools is that this is consistent with online mainstreaming and market fragmentation. Online higher education still exhibits an unusually consolidated enrollment distribution, at least for higher education. Eduventures estimates that the top 20 largest schools by online headcount account for one-third of the total online higher education market. For higher education overall, about 222 schools make up one-third of enrollment. Figure 2 looks at the evolution of the online higher education market over time, in terms of school participation and scale. 3

5 Figure 2. The Taming of Online Higher Education? Estimated percentage of schools with online programs 2005 Estimated percentage of schools with online programs 2010 Estimated percentage of schools with online programs 2012 Estimated 2012 online market share 69% 47% 40% 41% 42% 50% 26% 24% 26% 0% Type 1 (zero) Type 2 (<1,000 online headcount) 4% 15% 10% 1% 2.4%3.3% Type 3 (1,000-3,000) Type 4 (3,000+) Source: HLC, IPEDS and Eduventures analysis and estimates. Degree-granting, Title IV-eligible schools only As mainstream non-profit schools have come to terms with the end of the demographic boom in high school graduates, adult and online students have grown in strategic importance. Figure 2 shows significant school movement into online programming between 2005 and 2010, modest enrollment scale at the vast majority of online-active institutions, and a handful of schools in control of the bulk of the market. Between 2010 and 2012, school entry into the online market continued but at a slower pace, somewhat undermining historic concentration. The 50% online market share for Type 4 schools in 2012 is a small reduction on prior years. In Eduventures view, while it is undoubtedly true that an increase in online supply has put pressure on the largest players, the bigger question is whether online supply is outpacing demand. As discussed in a previous Eduventures report, The Adult Higher Education Consumer 2012: Which Way Now?, prospective student preference for 100% or primarily online study has not grown in line with online participation, suggesting a stagnant value proposition hard pressed to support further strong growth in an otherwise challenging environment. The 1.8% drop in enrollment in Fall 2012 for higher education overall, reported by the National Student Clearinghouse, with adult students falling even faster (3.4%), should caution against any complacency that an increase in online supply alone is a guarantee of enrollment growth. The online market continues to grow amid broader decline, but the underlying trend is slowing online growth and steady fragmentation. A key question for schools is whether to embrace the mainstreaming process fragmenting online enrollment across hundreds of institutions or leverage the particulars of online delivery to reassert consolidation. For most schools, fundamentally local, domestication of online is the right strategy, using online or perhaps hybrid programming to serve local populations and asserting the value of colocation of student and school. For a few online pioneers, the challenge is to make a stronger case for the benefits of consolidation, in terms of consistency, efficiency, and cost reduction.share by institutional control, updated from the Online Higher Education Market Update

6 Figure 3 estimates online market share by institutional control, updated from the Online Higher Education Market Update Figure 3. Who Has the Best Online Brand? 60% 50% 40% 30% 20% 10% 49% 39% 48% 46% 45% 42% 43% 39% Public For-profit Private 54% 55% 56% 57% 57% 55% 54% 52% 51% 31% 28% 26% 26% 27% 29% 31% 34% 35% 12% 12% 12% 13% 15% 16% 17% 17% 16% 16% 15% 14% 14% 0% 2008E 2009E 2010E 2011E 2012E 2013F 2014F 2015F 2016F 2017F 2018F 2019F 2020F Source: IPEDS, SEC, HLC, school data, and Eduventures estimates Figure 3 projects that the for-profit share of the online market will continue to decline for the next few years, if at a slower pace than the past two years. There is no sign that for-profit innovation efforts will substantially bear fruit on a faster timeframe. Non-profit schools, leveraging renewed market imperative and stronger brand fundamentals, will enjoy a period of relative resurgence, even while enrollment continues to fragment across a large number of providers. Eduventures does not anticipate that a significant number of non-profit schools will truly scale online, but rather a large number of non-profits will achieve ultimately modest online enrollment. Until the benefits of online consolidation become clearer, Eduventures views the legacy of higher education fragmentation as more powerful than any rational concentration of students in a small number of schools. 5

7 Online higher education strategy- eduventures services Eduventures has built up considerable experience assisting a wide range of schools to develop the right online strategy. If you would like to know more about how Eduventures can help, please contact Laura Boothroyd, Director of Consulting Services, at or 6

8 About Eduventures For the past 20 years, leaders of higher education have turned to Eduventures as they make critical business decisions. A research and consulting firm in higher education, Eduventures draws from deep practitioner expertise, a diverse network of colleges, universities, and businesses, and a rich set of data you won t find anywhere else. Our analyses and recommendations enable leaders of institutions to meet and exceed their goals, demonstrate thought leadership, and achieve their full potential in a complex and evolving landscape. For more Information To find out how Eduventures can realize your potential, visit or com. For more information about our Research Library, Insights reports, events, and research agenda,

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