As the Brookings report authors — Robin Howarth and Lisa Stifler of the nonprofit Center for Responsible Lending — note, a 1998 change to the Higher Education Act opened the door to colleges enrolling more than half of their students in online programs. Seeking cost-efficiency, scale and the chance to reach more adult students, for-profits were early adopters. Today for-profits are still orienting more and more online, but they are not alone.
Public and private nonprofit universities have joined the field. Arizona State and Southern New Hampshire universities are already established online players, and others are seeking a national footprint and enrollment expansion through online programs.