Online Students Rate Online Study Highly…When Their Expectations Are Met

Scott JeffeVice President, Research (Graduate and Online)June 20, 2024

RNL’s new Online Student Recruitment Report presents findings from our recent survey of 1,500 prospective and enrolled online students. The report presents five interconnected strategies that will help institutions to both maximize the growth of their online footprint and to ensure that students rate the quality of their experience highly. Perhaps the most important finding in the study was the rating enrolled respondents gave to their current/recent online experience:

Blog: Online Students Rate Online Study Highly, chart showing most online learners think online is as good as the classroom.

More than 40 percent of enrolled online students (we did not ask those who have yet to enroll) indicated that the quality of their online program was better than past classroom experiences, while nearly the same proportion indicated that it was “about the same.” Those who gave a high rating were asked why they did so and a summary of their reasons appears in the report.  

At the highest level, high ratings were driven by their online programs meeting three core expectations, each of which was validated repeatedly throughout the survey questions:

Address their concerns over engagement with their instructors (and to a lesser extent with their classmates)

Prior to enrolling, online students are most concerned about how they will engage with their instructors. They cannot quite envision how—without the use of Zoom or some other virtual meeting platform—they will have the type of interaction they need. Interestingly, nearly all the comments of those who rated their online experience as lower quality than past classroom focused on various aspects of insufficient or unsatisfactory engagement (while those who rated the experience higher often indicated that engagement was actually better than in the classroom).

Blog: Online Students Rate Online Study Highly, chart showing online student concerns focus on interaction and technical issues.

Incorporate career preparation into both the curriculum and wrap around services.

Wherever we included an answer choice that was related to career preparation, respondents selected it as important or critical to their choice of program. It was the most frequent motivator to enroll, it was the second most important aspect in their program decision, and it was among the most important services they want to be able to access. But it was also of vital importance to both what they want in specific courses and what they want across the whole of their online learning experience. In short, institutions must first incorporate career preparation both into their messaging and positioning and then follow through to ensure that curriculum really does prepare students to advance and/or change careers.

Blog: Online Students Rate Online Study Highly, Chart showing programs that are focused on career preparation and development are most attractive.

Provide timely responses that are consistently personalized.

As with all of RNL’s research into both the graduate and online audiences over the last five years, this year’s online students reiterated not only that they expect quick responses to inquiries, subsequent questions, and admissions decisions. They expect responses within minutes or hours and an admissions decision within one week. When they institutions do not meet these expectations, they are likely to “take it personally” with nearly half saying that a slower than expected response implies that they are not important to the program or school. These expectations continue on elsewhere in the study to reflect similar expectations once enrolled. In fact among the small proportion who indicated that they were not satisfied with the quality of their recent online studies, the single largest reason was inconsistent or slow response to questions and concerns by instructors and other program facilitators.

Blog: Online Students Rate Online Study Highly, Chart showing online student expect speedy responses from institutions.

Read the free executive summary and find out how to get the full report

The report offers insights into how more than fifty findings can be leveraged by institutions to ensure that online students have the type of experience that they will rate as “as good as” or “better than” past classroom experiences. If you are investigating how to expand online enrollment at your institution, consider scheduling a customized virtual tour of the report’s findings today. An RNL enrollment expert will walk you through the key strategies and give you full access to the report, featuring more than 50 findings.

Explore 5 interconnected strategies for online student recruitment

2024 Online Student Recruitment Report Executive Summary

Read 5 key recruitment strategies from our survey of than 1,500 online students to find insights on how students search for programs, what influences their enrollment decisions, what they look for in online programs, and more. Plus you can gain access to the full report with more than 50 findings.

Read Now

About the Author

Scott Jeffe

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.

Read More Blogs By: Scott Jeffe