QuickWire: There May Be Fewer Online Programs Than You Think

A new report on online education finds “noise in the data” that institutions send to the U.S. Department of Education about their offerings. While 3,311 institutions say they have online programs, the report says, the actual number is more like 1,243—in part because the definition of “online” is “overly ambiguous and broad,” and in part because an institution that has multiple campuses can count each as having online programs, even if the institution in fact has only a single online offering available to all its students.

The report was compiled by, which hopes to become a one-stop-shopping site for adult students. Staff members started by checking the Education Department’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, known as Ipeds, to see how many colleges reported having online programs. Staff members then visited each institution’s website to catalog its online offerings.

The report says that American colleges now offer 17,374 online programs altogether, 29 percent of which are master’s-degree programs, with bachelor’s and certificate programs making up 23 percent each. Business and management programs are the most popular, at 29 percent of the total, followed by health and medicine programs (16 percent), education programs (14 percent), and information technology and computers (10 percent).

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