The Department of Education allows colleges and universities to self-report the number of online courses they make available to students. New research from ApprovedColleges found that those numbers are not really adding up.
The report showed that the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) lists 3,311 schools offering online programs. After ApprovedColleges went through the websites of 90% of the colleges and universities listed by IPEDS and cataloged their online programs for more than 18 months, it found just 1,243 actually being offered.
The authors of the report concluded that the main reason for the discrepancy was that the database included every location a school might have listed as a separate entity and that the term “online” is ambiguous and broad. The study found five for-profit colleges that listed more than 280 campuses with each reporting online courses, while other colleges had placed noncredit online courses on the list.
The WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies also did a study based on IPEDS data on students taking distance education course in fall 2012 and came to a similar conclusion. It found that public institutions had 71% of students enrolled that semester, with just 13% of the students enrolled in only distance education classes.