Report Shows Students’ View of Online Higher Education Enrollment

InsideTrack releases analysis of prospective student engagement at 20 of the largest online programs, along with best practices

PORTLAND, ORE. (SEPTEMBER 18, 2019) — InsideTrack, the pioneering student success organization, today released a new report analyzing how major online higher education programs communicate and engage with prospective students during the admissions process. The report, which studied admissions practices at twenty of the nation’s largest online programs, found significant differences in the communication philosophies and approaches used by leading colleges and universities. 

The study involved researchers from InsideTrack submitting online Request For Information (RFI) forms to examine the prospective student experience at 20 online programs that collectively enroll more than 600,000 students. In order to assess the practices of each school, the researchers audited each school’s RFI and website; tracked the time, modality and frequency of communications in response to the RFI submission; and evaluated the value propositions communicated by each institution to prospective online students.

Results varied widely across institutions. For example, half of the institutions responded by phone within 1 to 3 minutes of RFI submission, while others took up to 84 minutes. Two institutions made only one engagement attempt, while one made 47 engagement attempts, including 45 phone calls. Only 4 institutions used text messaging. The most popular value propositions centered on the flexibility of online programs and the high level of support available to students.

In addition to providing a summary of the assessment results, the report also includes recommendations and best practices from InsideTrack’s work with leading online programs.

“To help online students be successful and reach their full potential, online programs must provide consistent, holistic support from the moment students begin evaluating their options,” said Robert Hansen, Chief Executive Officer of UPCEA, the leading association for professional, continuing, and online education. “Insights and best practices from organizations like InsideTrack, who work with a broad range of institutions and programs are extremely valuable to higher education leaders working to continuously enhance student engagement and success.”

Data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that while enrollment in postsecondary education overall is declining, enrollment in distance education continues to rise. At the same time, the number of institutions offering online programs is also on the rise, resulting in increased competition. As a result, colleges and universities are looking for ways to better engage potential online students and ensure they have the support they need to complete their studies.

“Institutions of higher education are rapidly expanding their online offerings for a wide range of reasons,” said Dave Jarrat, senior vice president of strategic engagement and growth at InsideTrack. “For some, it’s about increasing access. For others, it’s about growing revenue. Many are just adapting to the demands of the modern student. Irrespective of the motivation, successful online programs are constantly looking for better ways to engage and support students. Exploring the online education experience from the student perspective is an essential part of that work.”

This report is part of InsideTrack’s ongoing efforts to provide higher education leaders with insights into how to tailor student support programs to an increasingly diverse and distributed student population. Each research project is rooted in direct experience working with students and student support teams, offering decision-makers an opportunity to learn about the practices and approaches that are working for other institutions.

“By putting ourselves in the shoes of prospective students and understanding their aspirations and the challenges they face, we hope to provide colleges and universities with new insights into how to create better application and enrollment processes for anyone interested in continuing their education,” said Dr. Melissa Leavitt, who heads InsideTrack’s research efforts. “This research offers powerful insights for institutions looking to optimize their admissions and enrollment strategies to the new majority of learners who are increasingly online, part-time, and juggling academics with family and work.”

For a complete look at the research findings, view the full report: “Admissions Outreach Report: Establishing and Continuing Communication With Prospective Adult and Professional Degree Students” here


About InsideTrack

InsideTrack is passionate about student success. We partner with institutions and organizations to improve enrollment, persistence, completion and career readiness. Our student support methodology uncovers first hand feedback about student goals and challenges. Through strategic guidance, staff training and student coaching, we help institutions turn this feedback into actionable insights that drive better student outcomes. As a member of the nonprofit Strada Education Network, we offer partners access to a comprehensive range of student success solutions as well as the latest research and insights on student success. We’ve supported more than 2 million students since 2001 and currently serve over 4,000 programs. Join us and the leading institutions, foundations, and others working to bring the transformative power of education to all individuals. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @InsideTrack.

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