Why Online Programs Won’t Cannibalize On-Campus Programs
Online degree programs are now a common offering at colleges and universities across the country. But if you've had concerns that these online programs will eventually replace or reduce enrollment in your on-campus programs, the good news is that there's already plenty of evidence showing that this is not the case. Instead, the relationship between on-campus programs and online programs is more of a symbiotic one.
For example, data from one of Wiley Education Services’ institutional partners, a mid-size regional university, demonstrates how an online MBA program has actually supported the university’s on-campus MBA program. After launching an online MBA program in 2014, the institution saw steady enrollment growth over the next two years. In addition, the on-campus MBA program’s enrollment numbers, which had been declining, began to stabilize and eventually show a slight increase.
Online Programs Engage Students Who Would Not Enroll On-Campus
Market research2 also shows that the total number of graduates from both on-campus and online programs for schools that offer an online MBA are growing at a rate of 2 percent a year. On the other hand, the total number of graduates at schools that do not offer an online MBA option are declining at an average rate of 8 percent per year.
This phenomenon is not limited to business programs, as we see from the effect of adding an online Master of Science in Nursing–Family Nurse Practitioner (MSN-FNP) degree2:
- The total number of graduates (on campus and online) from institutions that offer an online/distance MSN-FNP degree has grown 177 percent since 2012.
- These institutions produced 54 percent of the total number of MSN-FNP graduates in 2016, up from 29 percent in 2012.
- Institutions that only offer an on-campus MSN-FNP without an online/distance option have lost market share, having owned 71 percent of the market in 2012, and now owning only 46 percent in 2016.
This research suggests that traditional universities benefit from a growth in enrollment numbers when students have the option of taking an online program in addition to on-campus programs. It also suggests that those who do not go online risk market-share losses, as students will go somewhere else to be online.
Behind the Numbers
There are several reasons why online programs are not undermining on-campus programs:
Online programs not only continue to provide new and additional opportunities for an evolving student demographic, but offer substantial benefits to institutions, including potential growth in their campus programs and increased brand awareness. Colleges and universities that do not offer online options in addition to campus programs may even find their enrollments declining.
1Wiley Education Services data
2The Integrated Post-Secondary Education Data System (IPED)