In 2015, 14 percent of U.S. college students were enrolled in online-only programs. This raises a question: who takes online classes? Does online education simply substitute for in-person education, or does it serve students who would not otherwise enroll in an educational program?

A study of Georgia Tech’s online computer-science master’s degree by Joshua Goodman, Julia Melkers, and Amanda Pallais, which will be published in the forthcoming Summer 2018 issue of Education Next, finds the first rigorous evidence that an online degree program can increase educational attainment. The authors see significant demand for the first low-cost online degree offered by a highly ranked institution, primarily from students who would not otherwise pursue a master’s degree. Further, unlike the younger, predominantly international applicants to the in-person equivalent at Georgia Tech, applicants to the online program were largely mid-career Americans. Taken together, this implies that the higher-education market had previously been failing to meet demand for a program like that of Georgia Tech. Learn more about the study in “An Elite Grad-School Degree Goes Online” or listen to author Joshua Goodman discuss his findings on the Education Exchange podcast.

—Education Next

Last updated March 27, 2018