In the digital age we live in today, it is no surprise that you can find just about any service available online. You can find friends online, do your taxes online, find a spouse and even get a degree through online education. In fact online education has become one of the most significant business and cultural shifts due to the Internet. One well known success story is The University of Phoenix. UoP alone is not only one of the first major online universities, but is also one of the largest online advertisers to date. As we investigated what makes the online education business tick we’ve come to discover just how important it has been.
In researching this industry Adotas spoke with the CMO and VP of Business Development for eLearners.com Terrence Thomas to delve deeper into the rapidly growing world of online education.
eLearners.com is an unbiased third-party evaluation site for those looking for a variety of degrees from a wide-range of schools. The company has been around since 1999 and lists over 2,500 degrees from over 170 online schools. Numbers that are only going to grow after the success of the online education industry in the past several years which Thomas reasons is “due to many factors, but specifically that more individuals require college degrees for employment, and word-of-mouth has been very good to this business. Lots of positive reviews.”
In the fall of 2006 almost 3.5 million students were taking at least one online course, and nearly 20% of all U.S. higher education students were taking at least one online course during that same time period according to data collected by The Sloan Consortium.
There are two types of schools that generate this business: For-Profit Schools, which were the first to really recognize the potential of this industry and make a profit specializing in trade degrees; and Non-Profit Schools, which offer degrees of every type and would be considered more traditional schools.
But a defining factor in the astronomical growth of online education is the cultural shift brought on by lead generation. The mass volume of online education advertising of available online schools and degrees has established a strong brand and cultural shift in how education can be achieved. It has validated online education in the way it previously validated online dating to the point that now the University of Phoenix has surpassed many colleges in the number of alumni and is the largest private university in the U.S. with over 300,000 students. “What’s happening is it’s opening up education to individuals who might never have the opportunity otherwise,” Thomas said. “This accessibility has democratized the ability to be educated.”
Today’s online schools have become more sophisticated and they are demanding higher lead quality from their vendors. The student demand for online learning is growing. In a survey conducted for a report put out by The Sloan Consortium, results showed that 83% of respondents with online offerings predicted growth in the number of students taking online courses. Online lead generation for education has provided a financial kick for the online advertising marketplace. The education providers are acquiring thousands of leads daily and millions yearly. This demand has really made up a large portion of the overall financial health and dramatically impacted the social and cultural implications to learning.
Not only has an online education become socially accepted, but an increased number of educational institutions have been recognizing the importance of the space. Reaching out to these perspective students has become more of a priority between the years of 2002 and 2006 when the report was written. With Chief Academic Officers being surveyed, the agreement with the statement “Online education is critical to the long-term strategy of my institution” went from an average of 48.8% in 2002 to 59.1% in 2006. The “For-Profit evolution” has become a “Non-Profit revolution”.
As for leads per month, Thomas said that in 2008 there will be 2 million students enrolled in fully online programs, stating “It will never replace traditional education, but there is an appeal.” He continued to say “70 million adults indicated they want to go back to school. These people know they want to go back, it’s just a matter of when.”
Thomas went on to say that the majority of students enrolled in online courses are working women in their mid-thirties who are under employed.
“The appeal to women is enormous. Kaplan University stated in September of 2007 that nearly three-quarters of their online students were women”. Online educators are providing a service that has brought about a societal shift that’s actually meaningful and empowering for adults seeking education, most specifically working women.
Lead generation has played a central role in the growth of online education and each lead aggregator will gladly discuss their concerns over lead source and quality. During the boom period online leads were gathered through many methods which included incentive based traffic. As the industry has matured lead quality has matured and the methods of sourcing qualified students has become much stricter. This increased tightening of standards has also encouraged smaller and more skeptical schools to join the family of lead buyers.
At the rate the industry has been growing, not only is online education a juggernaut for quality lead generation, but this growth also solidifies the positive ambitions the Internet originally had at conception. To allow people access to opportunities and information they might never have had otherwise. And the benefits for both the institutions and the students are invaluable. The growth also reflects how the power and reach of the online advertising industry combined with the online evolution of offline businesses can make massive societal impacts and create whole new businesses.