Online University Skews West Virginia Enrollment Numbers

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – An online-only private university headquartered in the Eastern Panhandle is skewing West Virginia’s college enrollment numbers, a state higher education official said.

A recent report by the Southern Regional Education Board says the number of Hispanic students enrolled in West Virginia colleges rose by 4,759 between 2005 and 2010. Data from the state Higher Education Policy Commission shows the increase would have been much smaller if the American Public University System’s enrollment figures were not included.

The report also shows West Virginia’s increases in White, “other” and male students lead the region. The state is ranked third nationally in growth among numbers of Black and female students.

“There’s a real easy answer for this: APUS,” Angie Bell, interim vice president of the Higher Education Policy Commission, told the Charleston Daily Mail.

Bell said both of the system’s institutes, American Public University and American Military, have large online enrollments.

The American Public University System’s corporate headquarters are in Charles Town. It does not have any satellite or branch campuses.

APUS spokesman Brian Muys said the U.S. Department of Education’s enrollment database requires locations for students. The university has to report all students as taking classes in West Virginia.

Other online schools inflate enrollment numbers in other states, he said.

“We are aware that our online enrollment numbers may inflate the overall growth of (West Virginia’s) numbers, but are also aware that most important policy organizations know that the way (the U.S. Department of Education) reports online enrollments distorts the numbers for many states, particularly when compared to states without an institution serving a large online population,” Muys said.

An “online only” option was not added to the reporting system until 2011, making it difficult for data collectors to separate traditional and online student enrollment figures, said Joe Marks, director of Education Data Services for the group that conducted the enrollment study.

The issue is likely to continue for a while because most universities are increasing or beginning to offer online courses, Marks said.