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July 21, 2003
An Explosion in Distance Education

Enrollment in "distance education" courses has nearly doubled since 1995, with more than half (56 percent) of the nation's two- and four-year degree-granting institutions offering such courses in the 2000-2001 academic year, according to a new report from the U.S. Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

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The survey, entitled "Distance Education at Degree-Granting Postsecondary Institutions: 2000-2001," is the third of its kind undertaken by NCES. It shows that there were about 3.1 million enrollments* in all distance education courses offered by these institutions. While the two previous studies, in 1994-95 and in 1997-98, looked at slightly different populations, there is a definite upward trend in distance education course offerings and enrollment, the NCES concluded.

In 1995, for instance, 33 percent of two- and four-year higher education institutions offered distance education courses; this had grown to 44 percent in 1997-98. In 2000-2001, that number had grown to 56 percent of two-year and four-year Title IV-eligible, degree-granting institutions offering distance education courses.

"Distance education is both a sign of the times and a harbinger on the future delivery of education services," said John Bailey, director, Office of Educational Technology at the Department. "We'll continue to see an upward trend. Not only at the postsecondary level, but we're seeing it in K-12, too."

"As this survey shows, the growth of distance education and online learning systems is making a significant change in the delivery of postsecondary education," said Sally Stroup, assistant secretary of postsecondary education at the Education Department.

"It is now possible for students to learn anytime and anywhere, including working adults, students in rural areas, and other populations with limited access to a traditional campus setting. If the Higher Education Act (HEA) is to continue to serve its original purpose of helping students of all ages and backgrounds achieve their education goals, the law must change to support--not stifle--the broad array of diverse learning opportunities available to a growing and changing student population."

This survey provides national estimates for 2000-2001 on the number and proportion of institutions offering distance education courses, types of distance education courses and enrollments, degree and certificate programs, distance education technologies, participation in distance education consortia, accommodations for students with disabilities, distance education program goals and factors institutions identify as keeping them from expanding distance education offerings.

Key findings from the study include:

-- Public institutions were more likely to offer distance education courses than were private institutions. During the 12-month 2000-2001 academic year, distance education courses were offered by 90 percent of public 2-year institutions, 89 percent of public 4-year institutions, 40 percent of private 4-year institutions, and 16 percent of private 2-year institutions.

-- Of the estimated 3,077,000 enrollments in all distance education courses, an estimated 2,876,000 of these enrollments were in college-level, credit-granting distance education courses, with 82 percent of these at the undergraduate level.

-- About half (52 percent) of the institutions that offered distance education courses in 2000-2001 had 500 or fewer enrollments in those courses; 22 percent had 100 or fewer enrollments.

-- There were an estimated 127,400 different distance education courses for any level or audience offered by 2-year and 4-year Title IV degree-granting institutions during the 12-month 2000-2001 academic year. Of these courses, an estimated 118,100 were college-level, credit-granting courses, with 76 percent at the undergraduate level. (Institutions participating in Title IV federal student aid programs are accredited by an agency or organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, have a program of more than 300 clock hours or eight credit hours, have been in business for at least two years, and have a signed agreement with the Department.)

-- About half (52 percent) of the institutions that offered distance education courses in 2000-2001 offered 30 or fewer distance education courses; 27 percent offered 10 or fewer courses.

-- Among all 2- and 4-year institutions in 2000-2001, 19 percent had degree or certificate programs designed to be completed totally through distance education. Among the 56 percent of institutions that offered distance education courses, 34 percent had degree or certificate programs designed to be completed totally through distance education.

-- Institutions were more likely to offer distance education degree programs than certificate programs. Among the institutions that offered distance education courses in 2000-2001, 30 percent offered degree programs, and 16 percent offered certificate programs.

-- The Internet was most often used as a primary mode of instructional delivery for distance education courses by institutions during the 12-month 2000-2001 academic year. Ninety percent of institutions that offered distance education courses indicated that they offered Internet courses using asynchronous (not simultaneous) computer-based instruction and 43 percent offered Internet courses using synchronous (simultaneous) computer-based instruction as a primary technology for instructional delivery.

-- Nearly all (95 percent) of the institutions that offered distance education courses in 2000-2001 indicated that they had used Web sites for their distance education courses. Of these institutions, 18 percent reported that they followed established accessibility guidelines or recommendations for users with disabilities to a major extent, 28 percent followed the guidelines to a moderate extent, 18 percent followed the guidelines to a minor extent, 3 percent did not follow the guidelines at all, and 33 percent did not know if their Web sites followed accessibility guidelines.

-- On issues related to student access, 69 percent of institutions offering distance education indicated that increasing student access by making courses available at convenient locations was a very important goal of their institution's distance education program, while 67 percent reported that increasing student access by reducing time constraints for course-taking was very important.

The full text of Distance Education at Degree-Granting Postsecondary Institutions: 2000-2001 is available online at http://www.nces.ed.gov. A copy of the report can be ordered by calling toll free 1-877-4ED-Pubs (1-877-433-7827) (TTY/TDD 1-877-576-7734); via e-mail at edpubs@inet.ed.gov; or via the Internet at http://www.ed.gov/pubs/edpubs.html.

* If a student was enrolled in multiple distance education courses, institutions were instructed to count the student once for each course in which he or she was enrolled. Thus, enrollments may include duplicated counts of students.

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