Why Enrollment in Online Courses Is Increasing Nationally

Online Education 6
Learning Strategies / Online Education / Teaching Methodology

Why Enrollment in Online Courses Is Increasing Nationally

Seaman, Allen, & Seaman (2018) concluded in their research that enrollment in face-to-face traditionally taught on-campus courses at higher education institutions continues to decrease and is projected to over the next ten years. As a result, they have investigated why students are choosing online learning and degree programs at an increasing rate (Seaman et al., 2018). With data such as that and knowing that institutions today are capable of reaching more students on a global platform than ever before, it is important to investigate the benefits of increasing online courses and degree programs at a higher education institution.

This can be done by diversifying curriculum, considering the degrees that students can complete online, and those that cater to various lifestyle circumstances (i.e. the working professional, stay-at-home parent, military personnel serving overseas and their families, and the non-traditional student), (Popovich & Neel, 2005; Palvia et al., 2018). .

Literature Review

In a case study by Ilgaz and Gulbahar (2017), they explore factors that make online learning “attractive” to students. Some include being able to study online using the Internet, having access to course curriculum from anywhere they have Internet service, rather than reporting to a physical space multiple times a week (Ilgaz & Gulbahar, 2017). Students prefer this kind of freedom because it allows the working professional, or student with a busy changing lifestyle, the flexibility to multitask and complete a degree at the same time.

Other students who do not reside near a university and cannot afford the financial expense of accommodations, traveling, or food find that online courses are more cost effective (Ilgaz & Gulbahar, 2017).  Being able to log on and study from wherever a student lives, while self-regulating one’s success, provides a more reliable solution to earning a degree for a growing number of students (Ilgaz & Gulbahar, 2017).  

Palvia et al. (2018) address the advantages to increasing online courses and degree programs, as well as the challenges that higher education institutions have in the long road ahead.

Some of the advantages include increasing enrollment, profit, extending university reach on a larger scale than previously imagined, increasing student and faculty technological skills, eliminating overcrowding of classrooms, reducing infrastructure, allowing students to work at their own pace and learning style, improving retention and graduation rates, and reducing faculty bias (Palvia et al., 2018).

Due to the flexibility and accessibility of a growing number of online courses and degree programs, online enrollment in the United States has increased to over six million students taking at least one online course, as of 2016 (Palvia et al., 2018; Seaman et al., 2018). However, research is showing the number of students enrolled exclusively in face-to-face courses in the U.S. is continuing to drop (Palvia et al., 2018; Seaman, Allen, & Seaman, 2018).

This is a trend that I have observed too. It is important to understand why faculty resist embracing and adopting online courses and degree programs, even when the university or college’s strategic plan calls for such a transformative move that is in the best interest of the entire academic community. 

While some area universities and colleges continue to advance in implementing additional online courses and degree programs, supported by institutional research, other institutions are slower to change (Palvia et al., 2018). Asking each faculty member to teach a minimum of one online course would only enhance everyone’s technological skills and benefit the academic community rather than contending with individual departments, administrators, and faculty bias that simply interferes with progress and enrollment (Palvia et al., 2018).

Imagine if all faculty had been fully trained in online learning and fluent in instructional technologies, teaching at least one online or hybrid course before March 2020. The feelings of panic and unpreparedness when pivoting as the pandemic began would have been reduced. As someone who has taught and trained faculty to teach online and use instructional technologies for 20 years, I know that experience was avoidable because it was not my own. Questions often answered about online learning pertain to whether this modality is of the same quality as face-to-face instruction, wanting to know what support will be provided during online course design and maintenance, and what incentive is provided to learn a new discipline and pedagogical tools (Seaman et al., 2018).

However, it is important for higher education institutions to ensure that faculty are equipped with training, support, and the incentive to enhance these important skills to meet the needs and interests of an ever-changing academic community as our students are increasingly enrolling in online courses (Seaman et al., 2018).


In summary, most universities and colleges today have an increasing need for online courses and degree programs that provide an excellent platform to reach a global audience and with opportunities like we have never seen before. Rather than resist such ideas, they should be viewed as unique opportunities to be seized. With our students’ lives changing and our schedules more demanding than ever, professional and personal responsibilities are on the rise. This makes online courses and degree programs an outstanding option for everyone involved. Brick and mortar institutions cannot remain competitive in a world that is network centric without considering a transformative and technological step forward that will be in everyone’s best interest. 


Ilgaz, H. & Gulbahar, Y. (2017). Why do learners choose online learning: The learners’ voices.

International Conference E-Learning, Retrieved from file:///F:/ACE/Why%20Do%20Learners%20Choose%20Online%20Learning.pdf

Palvia, S., Kumar, A., Kumar, O., & Kumar, S. (2017). Exploring themes, trends, and frameworks: A meta-analysis of online business education research. In: AMCIS 2017 conference, MA, Boston, August 10- 12, 2017. DOI: 10.1080/1097198X.2018.1542262

Popovich, C. J., & Neel, R. E. (2005). Characteristics of distance education programs at accredited business schools. American Journal of Distance Education, 19, 229–240.  doi:10.1207/s15389286ajde1904_4

Seaman, J. E., Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2018). Grade increase: Tracking distance education in the United States. Wellesley: The Babson Survey Research Group, MA, USA. DOI: 10.1080/1097198X.2018.1542262

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