If you read or watch the news, then you may have heard that college enrollment across the United States is decreasing as compared to previous years. The development is part of a trend. In 2013, the number of college students decreased by 1.5 percent as compared to 2012, according to U.S. News & World Report. While this may sound like a minor reduction, it translates to a loss of 300,000 students. These losses occur at various institutions, from community colleges to four-year universities. Yet despite a pattern that is clearly problematic for schools, the evidence suggests that online college degree programs are still flourishing even while traditional enrollment is declining in many schools.

The Extent of Enrollment Decreases

From spring 2013 to spring 2014, 0.8 percent fewer students were enrolled in colleges, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Four-year for-profit schools saw the steepest drops in enrollment, at about 4.9 percent, but two-year public colleges also suffered a significant decrease of 2.7 percent. Despite this worrying trend, some schools, states and types of colleges actually saw a boost in enrollment – and some of the increases have been associated with changes in online educational offerings.

New Hampshire, in particular, saw a 13 percent increase in enrollment, much of which has been credited to expansion in online offerings at major colleges in that state, according to U.S. News & World Report. Why would online degree programs be thriving so much if overall enrollment is dropping?

Why Enrollment Fluctuates

There are many possible explanations for why college enrollment overall is dwindling. Some potential students may not want to take on the burden of tens of thousands of dollars of student loans that will have to be paid back after graduation, so they decide to either forgo a college education or delay getting that education so they can save up more money to pay for tuition. Other proposed rationales focus on the health of the economy. Students who fear they won’t be able to find jobs even with a college degree may decide not to go to school after all. Alternatively, improvements in the job market mean that fewer nontraditional students – like experienced professionals who are either job-hunting or looking to advance their career – return to school.

Despite these factors, the pros of online college continue to overcome the obstacles to enrollment, at least for the type of students who choose online college for their education. These students value flexibility as well as the possibility to earn a degree in a shorter amount of time or without spending as much money on their education. An online education can offer all of these benefits and more. If you are considering earning a college degree, don’t let the overall decrease in college enrollment dissuade you. As more schools expand online course offerings and employers gain more respect for degrees earned through distance learning, there’s every indication that online learning will continue to be popular and relevant.