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Using Data to Guide Your Online Teaching Job Search

Using Data to Guide Your Online Teaching Job Search

by Chris Davis, Ph.D.
June 28, 2020

How do I get an online teaching job?

As with all hiring, there are two options for getting hired. First, you can apply for a posted position. Second, you network and get hired into a position that Is either never posted or if posted not advertised.

Higher ed job postings are often but not always posted to one of a handful of job posting boards. The downside to advertised positions is that they tend to attract many applicants. Sometimes you will need to be reviewing postings on the school’s own web site. This article will help you know what schools are worth tracking because they have the most online students. The Babb Group offers a lead service where they source postings that are not as widely advertised, and this can be valuable if you are looking for an online teaching position.

The Babb Group also provides coaching on networking and how-to cold call schools that might not currently be advertising for open positions. This article also helps you know what schools have online students so you know where to apply.

Where are the online students?

Prior to the pandemic and all higher education becoming remote, a few colleges and universities dominated the online higher education market. In fact, of 6,703 colleges and universities in the IPEDS database for Fall 2018, only 2,624 (39%) had fully online, undergraduate students. Only 215 of those had fully online enrollments above 2,000 students. The 10 largest online schools enrolled 20% of all fully online students.

If you are looking for an online teaching job, these are the largest schools by undergraduate enrollment:

  1. Western Governors University
  2. Southern New Hampshire University
  3. University of Phoenix-Arizona
  4. American Public University System
  5. University of Maryland-University College
  6. Grand Canyon University
  7. Liberty University
  8. Ashford University
  9. Arizona State University-Skysong
  10. Excelsior College

Fully online enrollments, though, are only part of the story. Many students today mix online and traditional classes. When students who are both online and on campus are added to the mix, the top ten changes slightly with three public colleges/universities joining the list. More importantly, the top 10 schools only include 9% of all fully or partially online students. This indicates greater distribution of students.

  1. Western Governors University
  2. Southern New Hampshire University
  3. University of Phoenix-Arizona
  4. Grand Canyon University
  5. University of Maryland-University College
  6. Liberty University
  7. Ivy Tech Community College
  8. American Public University System
  9. University of Central Florida
  10. Florida International University

Rather than lumping undergraduate and graduate enrollment, I have left these separate as the requirements to teach are different. A faculty member with a master’s degree may have the required credentials to teach undergraduate but not graduate programs. This can help you identify which schools you are more likely to be hired at.

Looking at graduate studies, 1,486 universities had fully online students of 2,034 (73%) graduate institutions. This reflects a dramatic shift in graduate and professional education to online delivery. Some of the state universities have even begun to shut down campus-based MBA programs in favor of online versions. The top 10 graduate institutions enrolled 26% of all fully online graduate students. The graduate top 10 includes:

  1. Walden University
  2. Grand Canyon University
  3. Western Governors University
  4. Liberty University
  5. Capella University
  6. University of Phoenix-Arizona
  7. Southern New Hampshire University
  8. Chamberlain University-Illinois
  9. University of Maryland-University College
  10. Northcentral University

Students who combine online and traditional enrollment is less common at the graduate level. When combining these two types of online students, we see this top ten:

  1. Walden University
  2. Grand Canyon University
  3. Western Governors University
  4. Liberty University
  5. Capella University
  6. University of Phoenix-Arizona
  7. Southern New Hampshire University
  8. Chamberlain University-Illinois
  9. University of Maryland-University College
  10. Johns Hopkins University

The only change is the number ten spot.

While there are more traditional undergraduate students adding one or more online courses to their schedule, this is less common at the graduate level. One of the opportunities for online faculty are to look for opportunities at local colleges and universities who are offering online courses to their existing students. This might be an overlooked opportunity, independent of the pandemic and the move to remote learning. Many traditional faculty do not embrace online learning, so we should expect online schools to hire online faculty. Where the large online colleges and universities are geared up for national faculty recruiting, local schools may not have this type of infrastructure. Networking locally might provide a better yield than applying to the larger schools.

Do I need a doctorate degree to get a teaching job?

No, you do not really need a doctorate to teach online. Requirements will vary by institution, but from a numbers perspective, there are far more online undergraduates than graduate students. In Fall 2018, over 2.3 million undergrads were fully online and over 5.7 million took at least one online class. In contrast, there were less than 1 million online graduate students and only 1.2 million who took at least one online class. Even if graduate class size is smaller than undergraduate, and usually this is not a big difference online, there are many more online undergraduates which should translate into more sections and more teaching opportunities.

How much do enrollments change?

In most industries, the largest companies have pretty stable market shares. In online higher education, though, we have seen both growth and decline and shifts over time. For example, consider the largest fully online universities in Fall 2015:

  1. University of Phoenix-Arizona (56%)
  2. Western Governors University (162%
  3. American Public University System (88%)
  4. Excelsior College (68%)
  5. Liberty University (88%)
  6. Ashford University (78%)
  7. Southern New Hampshire University (216%)
  8. Purdue University Global-Davenport (68%)
  9. University of Maryland-University College (121%)
  10. Grand Canyon University (124%)

The percentage is the size of the institution in Fall 2018 compared to Fall 2015. University of Phoenix lost almost half of their undergraduate enrollment in three years while University of Southern New Hampshire more than doubled.

If you are looking for an online teaching job, schools that are declining in enrollment do not make good opportunities. Instead focus on those that are growing and need faculty.

Overall, during this three-year period, fully online enrollments increased by 260,000 students and graduate enrollment by 170,000 additional students. This growth was largely outside of the top ten universities. Rather than seeing consolidation in online learning, we have been seeing more colleges and universities enrolling fully online students.

For faculty, the key take-aways are be prepared for schools to shrink and not continue to offer you teaching opportunities. It also means there is opportunity to find new opportunities at schools that are adding or growing online learning options.

Want to do your own analysis?

The most utility from this data is to do your own research on what schools have online students. This can help you identify what schools to either review job postings on their site or by networking with individuals at the school to learn about new opportunities. I have provided the data extract from IPEDS in a Google Sheets page that anyone can view or copy to their own file for further analysis.


Online Enrollments by State

Another useful source of data on online enrollment and institutions is NC-SARA. NC-SARA is an organization that allows state approval to operate in one’s home state allow approval to offer online classes in other states without gaining additional approvals. Currently, California is the only state to not participate in NC-SARA. One of the participation requirements is that schools must submit data on an annual basis. This data gives some additional details that IPEDS does not provide. Their annual data report has a variety of information and is available online at: https://www.nc-sara.org/sites/default/files/files/2020-03/2019-NC-SARA-Data-Report-FINAL-04MAR20.pdf

While not all colleges and universities participate in NC-SARA, 1,854 schools reported online enrollments in 2019. Of these schools, 51.5% were public colleges and universities, 42.7% private, non-profit, and 5.7% private, for-profit. Of the 2,806,382 enrollments reported, 54.1% of all enrollments were in-state for the school while the balance (45.9%) were out-of-state. This data suggest that many students enroll at colleges and universities in their home state. For out-of-state enrollments, 44.9% were private, non-profits, 33.9% private, for-profit, and 21.9% publics. This suggests that public universities are increasing their in-state, online enrollments while a few private colleges and universities have a national presence.

According to NC-SARA, these are the ten largest for-profit online colleges and universities:

  1. University of Phoenix
  2. Strayer University
  3. American Public University System
  4. Ashworth College
  5. Capella University
  6. Penn Foster College
  7. Chamberlain University
  8. Colorado Technical University
  9. Columbia Southern University
  10. Full Sail University

These are the ten largest non-profit online colleges and universities:

  1. Western Governors University
  2. Southern New Hampshire University
  3. Grand Canyon University
  4. Liberty University
  5. Excelsior College
  6. Brigham Young University - Idaho
  7. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
  8. University of the Cumberlands
  9. Stevens-Henager College-Ogden
  10. American College

These are the largest public colleges and universities:

  1. University of Maryland Global Campus
  2. Arizona State University
  3. Purdue University Global, Inc.
  4. Bellevue College
  5. Palm Beach State College
  6. Kent State University
  7. The University of Texas at Arlington
  8. The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
  9. Eastern Gateway Community College
  10. Pennsylvania State University

One way to look for colleges and universities that might be hiring online faculty is to use the NS-SARA data to find the online schools that are based in your state. The list of schools and their online enrollments along with home state is provided in the Google sheets:


You may find it easier to network or be hired in a school in your own state.

How can the Babb Group help?

In addition to lead services, the Babb Group provides several services for people interested in securing an online teaching job, including cv review and writing. These services can be critical in making the difference about getting an interview or a job offer.

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About the Author

Chris DavisChris Davis, Ph.D.

Chris Davis, Ph.D. is an educator and  entrepreneur. He writes, teaches, and coaches on how to leverage technology to achieve personal and professional goals. He has served as a faculty member and administrator in higher education since 1996 at institutions including Baker College, National Louis University, University of Liverpool, Colorado Technical University, and Western International University. His Ph.D. in Urban, Technological, and Environmental Planning is from the University of Michigan. He also has a Master’s of Science in Education from Capella University, a Master’s of Science in Psychology from Walden University, and an MBA in Accounting and Information Technology from Western International University.