BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — Enrollment in Indiana University's online courses has soared during the past decade across the school's campuses even as overall student enrollment has dropped, officials said.
School research shows total enrollment of degree-seeking students at IU campuses fell by nearly 5% from the fall of 2011 to the fall of 2019. But the number of students taking at least one online course has more than doubled during the same time, The Herald-Times reported.
Growth in online enrollment comes from both an understanding of the platform's benefit and an embrace of digital transactions in daily life. Administrators said IU must continue to prioritize growth in its online space as students' expectations change and the university prepares for a decline in the number of high school graduates.
"People are more comfortable with online services in general," said Chris Foley, director of the Office of Online Education and associate vice president at IU.
Many of the high school students applying to IU are content submitting assignments online, Foley noted. From there, it's not that much of a leap to a completely online class. He added that most students who take online classes are undergraduates, typically in their early 20s and want to take advantage of the flexibility and cost savings.
As his office evaluated the characteristics of this population, most students who enroll in IU's online programs are usually employed and have likely been promoted. They merely have the time and fiscal means to fit some classes in that may help them further advance their careers.
Foley's office has tried to use what it has learned to improve IU's online experience. Recognizing the time restraints of working adults, the office has worked to restructure the application process.
The university is consistently refining its processes based on what is known about its online student population.
The number of Indiana high school graduates is expected to peak this year at about 75,000, according to Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education figures. By 2031, it's projected to drop to about 67,600. Nationally, the number of high school graduates should peak in 2025 before plummeting by more than 308,000 in 2031.
But even without the imminent demographic change, students are increasingly seeking more online education options.
"And if you don't offer that and meet their expectations, we do know that they will go elsewhere," Foley said. "It's not just about growing, it's about maintaining the enrollment we have."