When a university or college offers an online program, it competes with a variety of institutions—some public, some private, some not-for-profit, some for-profit—many of which may be far outside its region. That’s why it is essential that you use data (such as competitor information, online program popularity, and more) to make informed decisions about online program development.
A key portion of the program development process is market research; you need to know what program opportunities are out there and what your competition looks like. Which types of distance learning programs are most popular? Which disciplines have the highest shares of online programs at the bachelor’s and master’s degree levels?
Accessed via the Information Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), this information can pinpoint programs where you’ll find the stiffest competition—and also which online degrees may be most desired by students.
For the purposes of this article, we excluded any discipline that had fewer than 200 total programs in 2014. Of the bachelor’s programs that qualified, there are 69 disciplines where online programs make up more than 1% of the total. For master’s disciplines, there are 52.
Because business administration, management, and operations programs are hugely popular (both residential and online), there are more business programs offered online than in any other field on the list—even though the online share is less than in other disciplines (27%).
Registered nursing, nursing administration, nursing research, and clinical nursing programs have the highest share of degrees offered online (34%). Other health care programs are also popular online, including health and medical administrative services and health services/allied health/health sciences, general.
It’s also no surprise that a lot of online programs cater to students who are already interested in computers. There are high shares of online offerings in computer and information sciences, computer/information technology administration and management, computer software and media applications, and computer programming.
There are several disciplines that appear on both the bachelor’s and master’s degree lists: nursing, criminal justice, human resources management, health & medical administrative services, computer and information sciences—and, again due to its overall popularity, business administration tops the list for most online programs (nearly half of all MBA programs are offered online).
Four education disciplines also emerge among master’s degree programs with high shares of distance learning: educational administrative and supervision; education, general; educational/instructional media design; and teaching English or French as a second or foreign language. Educational/instructional media design has the highest share of online programs among all master’s degree disciplines (60%).
Want More Information?
Want to see more online program data? Please contact EMSI for more information about specific disciplines or programs in your state or region.
The data in this article can provide insight into online program development, but there are several other sources that you should consider. For example, how much weight should you put on high or low online program counts? Data on whether or not the number of total completions is meeting current and future occupational demand—both in your region and in the nation—can help you further assess program opportunities.
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