Aug 11, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

While the word “flexibility” may be the first to come to mind when conversations about the wants and needs of online college students arise, a recent survey of 1,500 prospective, current and newly graduated online-only college students reveals that something else tops the list. According to Online College Students 2017: Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences, online students are looking for a sense of community above all else. Here’s a closer look at the community imperative, along with other key takeaways from a report.

Community Counts

Developed and conducted by The Learning House, Inc. and Aslanian Market Research, the annual Online College Students report aims to identify “how students  choose a program, how they feel about alternative credentials, what regrets they have, how quickly they make a decision and more.”

Chief among its findings? That students want to feel like they’re part of a community with more interactions with classmates and instructors a priority for many. More than half of online students, meanwhile, report that they travel to campus as often as five times a year to meet with instructors of study groups.

Other Takeaways

The report further suggests that more students are branching out when it comes to school searches. While the majority still attend school close to home, they are increasingly looking at more institutions before deciding on a school.

Online students are also likely to regret hasty decisions made during the college search. According to the report, “Twenty-three percent of current and past online college students wished they had contacted more schools during the selection process, whereas others wished they learned more about the tuition and fees (17 percent) or their financial aid package (16 percent).

Lastly, competency-based programs are eliciting growing interest from online students -- particularly as awareness about competency-based education grows.

Ultimately, while online higher education institutions continue to thrive, the reality is that the marketplace is increasingly competitive. Understanding the market -- and, more specifically, adapting to meet student needs and demands - can help online colleges and universities maintain the critical inside edge.



Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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