Newswise — A new report, Grade Increase: Tracking Distance Education in the United States, by the Babson Survey Research Group, reveals distance student enrollments have increased for the fourteenth straight year in 2016. 

The most recent gain translates to over thirty percent of higher education students taking at least one distance education course. Growth, however, was uneven; public institutions grew by 7.3 percent, private non-profit institutions by 7.1 percent, while private for-profit institutions had their distance enrollments decline by 4.5 percent.

“The growth of distance enrollments has been relentless,” said study co-author Julia E. Seaman, research director of the Babson Survey Research Group. “They have gone up when the economy was expanding, when the economy was shrinking, when overall enrollments were growing, and now when overall enrollments are shrinking.”

Key report findings include:

  • Distance education enrollments increased for the fourteenth straight year.
  • The most recent year-to-year addition of 337,016 distance education students, a 5.6 percent increase, exceeds the gains seen over the past three years.
  • Six percent of all students now take at least one distance education course (a total of 6,359,121 students).
  • Distance students are fairly evenly split between those who take both distance and non-distance courses (3,356,041 students) and those who take exclusively distance courses (3,003,080).
  • Public institutions command the largest portion of distance education students, with 67.8 percent of all distance students.
  • Distance education enrollments are highly concentrated, five percent of institutions account for almost half of all distance education students.
  • Distance enrollments remain local: 52.8 percent of all students who took at least one distance course also took a course on-campus, and 56.1 percent of those who took only distance courses reside in the same state as the institution at which they are enrolled.
  • Virtually no distance enrollments are international: only 0.7 percent of all distance students are located outside of the United States.
  • The number of students studying on a campus has dropped by over one million (1,173,805, or 6.4 percent) between 2012 and 2016.

"It is encouraging to see the upward trend in distance learning enrollments continue as students take advantage of flexible, high-quality education opportunities that position them for lifelong success,” said Laura Howe, vice president, global media and communities, Pearson. “As more institutions recognize this growing demand, we expect to see distance enrollments become an increasingly key component of their growth strategy and an important way for more people to make progress throughout their learning journey.”

“The growth in distance learning enrollments, in part, reflects the commitment to quality and innovation by those designing and delivering distance programs,” said Kathleen S. Ives, CEO and executive director, Online Learning Consortium. “Competition for students is more intense than ever, requiring institutions to continue to advance the quality and relevance of their programs, or risk losing ground to those who are successfully serving the education and career goals of the modern learner.”

The complete report, “Grade Increase: Tracking Distance Education in the United States” is available at


Pearson is the world’s learning company, with expertise in educational courseware and assessment, and a range of teaching and learning services powered by technology. Our mission is to help people make progress through access to better learning. We believe that learning opens up opportunities, creating fulfilling careers and better lives. For more, visit

The Online Learning Consortium (OLC) is a collaborative community of higher education leaders and innovators, dedicated to advancing quality digital teaching and learning experiences designed to reach and engage the modern learner – anyone, anywhere, anytime. Visit for more information.

Tyton Partners provides investment banking and strategy consulting services to companies, foundations, post-secondary institutions, and investors as they navigate the complexities of the global knowledge sector. For more information about Tyton Partners visit or follow us @tytonpartners.

The Babson Survey Research Group at Babson College conducts regional, national, and international research projects, including survey design, sampling methodology, data integrity, statistical analyses and reporting. Visit

About Babson College

Babson College is the educator, convener, and thought leader of Entrepreneurship of All Kinds®. The top-ranked college for entrepreneurship education, Babson is a dynamic living and learning laboratory where students, faculty, and staff work together to address the real-world problems of business and society. We prepare the entrepreneurial leaders our world needs most: those with strong functional knowledge and the skills and vision to navigate change, accommodate ambiguity, surmount complexity, and motivate teams in a common purpose to make a difference in the world, and have an impact on organizations of all sizes and types. As we have for nearly a half-century, Babson continues to advance Entrepreneurial Thought & Action® as the most positive force on the planet for generating sustainable economic and social value.