Geography Matters in Online Higher Education

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Eduventures report provides assessment of the size and growth of the online higher education market.

Online education heralded the promise of borderless educational opportunity, yet nearly two out of every three online students live within the geographical region of their awarding institution, according to a recent study by Eduventures, the leading research and consulting firm for the education industry. Even more surprising is that more than one-third live within a 50-mile radius of their online education provider.

"At the height of the dot-com boom, some commentators assumed that online delivery would remove geography from the higher education equation. The projected ability to study at any institution, nationwide or internationally, implied that the geographic fragmentation of U.S. postsecondary education would be fundamentally disrupted," said Richard Garrett, Eduventures program director and senior research analyst. "This does not appear to be the case." In fact, Eduventures' research shows that of consumers willing to consider an online program, 63% preferred an online provider to have some physical presence at least within their state.

Eduventures' report, Online Higher Education Market Update, Part I, also considered the market size and share of online education. Eduventures found that:

  • The online higher education market continued to grow strongly through 2005 and 2006. The total number of students in online programs at the end of 2006 is estimated to have exceeded 1.5 million (24% growth over 2005) and represents 8.6% of all higher education students in the United States at degree-granting, Title IV eligible institutions. This is up from 7% in 2005, and is projected to rise to around 11.5% in 2008 (approximately 2.13 million students).
  • At the close of 2005, the tuition revenue market size for online higher education was around $6.2 billion. By the end of 2006, it jumped approximately 30% to around $8.1 billion.
  • A small number of schools account for a significant proportion of online students. For example, in 2005, out of 156 schools with data, 10% of schools accounted for more than 63% of reported online students. The vast majority of online program providers have relatively small numbers of online students—fewer than 500.
  • While accounting for only 5.1% of students at degree-granting institutions in 2004, for-profit schools encompassed 37% of online students. By 2008, for-profit market share of online students is expected to fall to 32%.

"Strong consumer interest in online delivery, far in excess of current participation, combined with the growing acceptance of online education by constituents, including faculty, institutional management, governments, students, consumers, and employers, suggests room for significant growth for the foreseeable future," said Noah Carp, senior analyst for Eduventures and co-author of the report.

Eduventures' report, Online Higher Education Market Update, Part I, provides market analysis of the online higher education market, including online student population, growth rates, dollar size, and market share, with unprecedented details on the market by credential, discipline, and geography. This research is a product of Eduventures' Online Higher Education Learning Collaborative, a member-based research program designed to help college and university administrators responsible for their institutions' online programs address critical strategic, marketing, and operational challenges, as well as Eduventures’ Industry Solutions division, which provides research and consulting to providers serving the education market.

About Eduventures

For more than a decade, Eduventures has been the most trusted name in the education market for research, consulting services, and peer networking. Its clients include senior administrators and executives from leading educational institutions and companies serving the K-12, higher education, and corporate learning markets, as well as decision-makers in government agencies and the investment community. For more information, visit


Steven Shapiro




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