A comprehensive look at postsecondary distance education enrollment in Michigan

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In a previous blog post, we’ve examined online and distance education enrollment rates at postsecondary institutions across the United States. In this post, we’ll provide some local context by examining distance education enrollment rates at both public and private four-year institutions of higher education, as well as public two-year institutions, here in Michigan.

The data sets presented here also focus exclusively on degree-granting Title IV institutions. The compiled figures were retrieved from the spring 2013 Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) collection cycle and represent the most recent year for which data are available. Please refer to our previous blog post to learn more about the collection process, the system’s definition of distance education, and the data system itself.

Public Four-Year Institutions

Fifteen schools were identified as degree-granting, four-year public institutions within the state of Michigan with a total undergraduate enrollment of 239,538. Of that total, only 3% (7,091 students) were enrolled exclusively in distance education courses, while 27,630 students, or 11.5%, were enrolled in at least one distance education course.

During the same school year, Central Michigan University reported 2,044 (10%) undergraduate students enrolled exclusively in distance education courses in 2013, the largest total of the 15 schools. The University of Michigan – Flint had the highest percentage of undergraduate students enrolled exclusively in distance education courses (13.7%) as well as the highest enrollment in some but not all distance education courses (36.4%). Michigan State University had 5,832 undergraduate students who took at least some distance education courses that year, 15.4% of its total student count. Refer to Figure 1 for totals for all 15 institutions.

Figure 1
Figure 1. Percentage of Undergraduate Students Enrolled in Distance Education, Michigan Title IV Public Four-Year Institutions, 2013
Public Two-Year Institutions

Thirty schools were identified as Title IV degree-granting, public two-year colleges in Michigan, with a 2013 school year total student count of 222,286. Of this group, 7.9% were enrolled exclusively in distance education courses, while 15.4% were enrolled in some but not all distance education courses. These are noteworthy percentage increases over the public four-year group (3.0% and 11.5%, respectively). Schoolcraft College, in Livonia, accounted for the largest number of students exclusively enrolled in distance education courses: 3,311, or 26.7% of its total student population. Lansing Community College reported 5,615 (32%) students enrolled in at least some distance education courses.

Private, Nonprofit Four-Year Institutions

There are 51 private, nonprofit Title IV institutions represented in this data set. In 2013, 17,209 (15.9%) of the 108,188 students enrolled in these institutions were enrolled exclusively in distance education courses. Those enrolled in some but not all distance education courses accounted for 12.9% of the total student population in this group. Baker College Center for Graduate Studies enrolled the most students in exclusively distance education courses, as over 99% of its 5,270 students fell into this category. At Davenport University, 2,159 (29.4%) of its total student population in 2013 were enrolled exclusively in distance education courses. Nearly 88% of undergraduate students at the Michigan Jewish Institute took at least some distance education courses, while Davenport had the highest actual number of students in this category. It is also interesting to note the distribution of distance education enrollments among the thirty schools in this group. A small number of schools, including Baker College Center for Graduate Studies, Davenport University, and Madonna College, accounted for a substantial amount of the distance education enrollments, while other large schools in this group, such as Kalamazoo College, Hope College, and Spring Arbor University, had little to no distance education enrollments.

Private, For-Profit Four-Year Institutions

Of the 15 private, four-year for-profit schools, only two reported student enrollment in exclusively distance education courses: DeVry University – Michigan and the International Academy of Design and Technology – Troy. These 104 students accounted for only 1.9% of all students in this group for 2013. There were 756 (14.6%) students included in this group who took at least some distance education courses. The Art Institute of Michigan accounted for the most students, 363 (36.2%),in some distance education, while the school with the highest percentage was South University – Novi with 50.3% (178 total). It should be noted that this data set does not capture much larger institutions that enroll Michigan students but are not considered Michigan-based schools, such as the University of Phoenix, or for that matter, any out-of-state institution that serves Michigan residents from outside the state.


Of the types of institutions observed for this study, public two-year and private nonprofit four-year schools in Michigan are the leaders when it comes to undergraduate distance education enrollment. Undergraduates attending a public two-year college in Michigan are much more likely to take at least some distance education courses than if they were to attend a public four-year school.

Figure 2
Figure 2. Percentage of Undergraduate Students Enrolled in Distance Education Courses by Institution Type – Michigan, 2013

It’s important to consider these enrollment figures in contrast to the national data that we highlighted in our previous post . Only 14.5% of undergraduates at public four-year universities in Michigan took at least one distance education course in 2013, a lower tally than the figure of 21.8% nationwide in 2012. Public two-year and private for-profit four-year schools in Michigan slightly outpace the national average in terms of undergraduate enrollment in distance education courses. Despite Michigan being a recognized leader in the area of K-12 online learning, as evidenced by its state curriculum’s online learning requirement, its public four-year universities lag behind the national average when it comes to the use of distance education.

Figure 3. Percentage of Undergraduate Students Enrolled in Distance Education Courses by Institution Type – U.S. (2012), Michigan (2013)

Though the Michigan data presented here represents only undergraduate enrollment from the 2013 collection year, a comparison of distance enrollment totals in 2012 reveals a growth trend at each type of institution. Additionally, changes to Section 21f of the State School Aid Act, which outlines some of the regulations around online learning at the K-12 level, now allow community colleges to offer courses directly to any public school students in grades 6-12 through the statewide online course catalog.

It’s clear that online learning is a well-established practice at many postsecondary institutions in the state and will likely be growing as time passes. It’s important to ensure that students are prepared and comfortable learning in such an environment. Our next post in this series will take a look at how Michigan universities are communicating that importance to prospective students.


Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute

Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute

The Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute (MVLRI) is a non-biased organization that exists to expand Michigan’s ability to support new learning models, engage in active research to inform new policies in online and blended learning, and strengthen the state’s infrastructures for sharing best practices. MVLRI works with all online learning environments to develop the best practices for the industry as a whole.

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Limited Course Capacity

We’re sorry to inform you that we have reached capacity for several of our Semester 1 and Trimester 1 courses. You’ll notice when attempting to enroll students in our Student Learning Portal that some courses are unavailable. While we are no longer accepting new enrollments for these courses at this time, many courses continue to remain open for enrollment.

With many students across the state 100% remote, demand for our online courses is greater than ever before. Because every course we offer is taught by a Michigan-certified teacher, this high volume of enrollments has created capacity issues for our teachers who provide each and every student with individual feedback.

While the Michigan Virtual team anticipated and planned for significant increases in student enrollments this Fall, the increased demand we’ve experienced has been unprecedented. As a result, we are taking steps to hire even more part-and full-time teachers to support larger numbers of student enrollments for Semester 2 as well as for Trimester 2 and 3. 

For schools that still need online learning options this year, please fill out the form at the bottom of our virtual pathways page to meet with someone to discuss other solutions. While some of our teacher-led courses are full, we may still have the capacity to help you in upcoming terms or can discuss timing to implement a whole-school or collaborative program in which local teachers from your school/district use our online course content to teach students. We also have free course content and resources available for you to use.

We know this is an incredibly stressful time for all, and we’re sorry if the courses you’re looking for are unavailable. We never want to turn away a student who wants to learn from us. Our top concern, however, is student success, and we have a policy to not take on additional enrollments if we cannot guarantee that all students will have a quality online learning experience. 

We appreciate your patience and understanding as we navigate the unusually high volume of enrollments we are receiving.