Online Student Enrollment Statistics

Online Student Enrollment Statistics

  • As many as 11.2 million students in the USA take online classes 
  • 68% of students enrolled in online education are working adults or returning students – students going back to college after a break of 1 semester or more to complete a course they have started
  • Less than half (46%) of online students are full-time
  • 1 in 5 (22%) graduate students 
  • 30% of all students take at least one class online
  • 39% of college freshmen prefer to take their online courses at home, while 30% want to take courses in a hybrid setup
  • 33% of online students completed their coursework using their smartphones and tablets
  • 2.79 million students are enrolled at primarily online colleges – almost 15% of all college students
  • 62% of students at online schools are female
  • 39% of college freshmen prefer online courses that they can take from home
  • 30% prefer a hybrid structure with some aspect of in-person learning

Online college attendance by race

Primarily online colleges are defined as colleges where more than 90% of the student body engages in distance learning.

  • White students are significantly more likely to attend a traditional, in-person college than they are to attend an online college
  • Online schools enroll more racially diverse student bodies than conventional schools
  • Black students make up a larger proportion of students at online colleges than they do at traditional colleges
  • This is also the case for Hispanic students and Asian students
  • Online students are more likely to be part-time or have a job than students who attend traditional colleges
RaceOnline College %Traditional Colleges %
Pacific Islander0.4%0.2%
American Indian/Alaska Native0.7%0.6%
Two or more races3.9%4.0%
Nonresident 3.5%4.6%

Online college enrollment over time

  • In 2012, over 25% of U.S. college and university students took at least one distance-learning course
  • By 2019, 36% were enrolled in online classes at college
  • Approximately 50% of these were completely online
  • By 2020, 75% of students were enrolled in at least one class online
  • In 2021, this came back down to 60% after Covid-19 restrictions loosened

How many degrees do online colleges award?

  • In 2020, colleges with more than 90% of the student body enrolled in online classes awarded:
    • 150,201 associate degrees
    • 297,976 bachelor’s degrees
    • 144,692 master’s degrees
    • 14,380 doctorates
  • 14.7% of all college enrollees are at primarily online schools
  • But in terms of degrees awarded, they make up:
    • 14.8% of all associate degrees
    • 14.6% of all bachelor’s degrees
    • 17.2% of all master’s degrees

Impact of Covid-19 on online enrollment

  • In the fall of 2020, over 14 million students took online classes due to Covid restrictions
  • That’s more than 75% of postsecondary students in the USA
  • This compares to 36% in the fall of 2019
  • In 2021, 60% of all degree-seekers in the U.S. took at least some online classes
  • This is significantly more than the 36% pre-pandemic, indicating that the pandemic has changed our habits and perceptions of online learning 
  • In 2021, 30% of students studied exclusively online

Online classes by institution type

  • 11.2 million students in the USA take online classes 
  • Of these, 8.5 million students are enrolled in online classes at public colleges and universities
  • A further 2.7 million students attended private schools remotely
  • 15% of all US college students attend primarily online institutions
  • However, many more students undergoing online degrees also attend traditional colleges
  • There are 422 primarily online institutions in the USA
  • This is approximately 11% of all colleges and universities in the country