Discussing the Online College Students Report With Carol Aslanian

Scott Jeffe

Vice President, Research (Graduate and Online)

September 28, 2020

Carol Aslanian
Carol Aslanian

Carol Aslanian is president and founder of Aslanian Market Research and one of the nation’s thought leaders on adult/post-traditional students. She was also my boss for 20 years before I came to RNL. I recently sat down to talk with her about the ninth annual Online College Students report, of which she is the co-author.

You can watch our full conversation in this episode of RNL@Home and read highlights of our conversation below.

Another local learning option

In our wide-ranging discussion, Carol pointed out that while many of the findings in the report followed a pattern similar to those of the past few years—a sign of a maturing market—there were a few outcomes that were new and noteworthy. Perhaps the most important new finding relates to proximity. The report has been documenting the proportion of online students who enroll in a school within 100 miles of where they live since 2012, but in the 2020 report the data indicate that 75 percent of online students live within 50 miles of their institution—and half live within 15 miles. These data were collected prior to the pandemic, and they prove that online learning is largely just another local learning option.

Previous credit

Carol and I have long advocated generous policies for previously earned credit—both generally for adult students and more specifically for online students. The fact that the report documents that 87 percent of online undergraduate students enroll with some previously earned credits makes this an irrefutable priority. Carol pointed out that almost one-quarter enroll with more than 90 credits, but that the median is about 40 credits. This necessitates generous policies, but it also demands that there not be thresholds as in past degree completion programs that typically required 60 credits to have been earned.

Rating quality

Carol also pointed out that in an emerging trend, more and more online students are rating their online experiences as superior to their past classroom experiences. In fact, the report found that 41 percent rated their online experience as better and 38 percent rated it as just as good as past classroom study. Carol (and I) have long said that online education has gotten a bad reputation in some quarters because the wrong students tried it and were not successful. Carol said: “When you poll students who tried it and finished it, you get a totally different picture.”

Impact of “remote learning”

I asked Carol what she thought about the long-term impact of the pandemic-driven quick transition to remote/online learning. Without skipping a beat, she said that she thought it will have had a net positive effect, because so many adult or post-traditional students (as Carol preferred to call them these days) who have thought about it but have not done it will now have had the experience and will discover all the benefits it offers. When I asked her what she thought about the effect on traditional undergraduates, she said that she wasn’t discounting that they will not have liked it as much, but “they didn’t sign up for it, and they are not the demographic that is on the rise over the next 5-7 years anyway.”

There are many more insights and entertaining comments from Carol in the full interview. If you have any questions, please email me and I’ll be happy to respond.

About the Author

Scott Jeffe, RNL

Scott Jeffe has worked with more than 200 institutions in 40+ states to apply market data to strategic decisions. With a focus on profiling the demands and preferences of nontraditional (adult, online, etc.) students, Scott...

Read more about Scott's experience and expertise

Reach Scott by e-mail at Scott.Jeffe@RuffaloNL.com.

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