Many see the rise in the availability of technology-supported distance education—that is, the delivery of instruction over a distance to individuals located in one or more venues—not only as a revolutionary opportunity to increase access to postsecondary education, but also as an opportunity to hasten the overall pace of reform in higher education (Ehrmann n.d.). In contrast to the institutional status quo, what was once an eclectic assortment of individually accessed, noncredit educational courses is quickly being knit into comprehensive degree- and certificategranting programs (Phipps, Wellman, and Merisotis 1998). Indeed, if a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education (April 9, 1999, A27) is any indication, the distance education industry is thriving: "For an industry that barely existed three years ago, the level of activity is dizzying."
This report presents findings from the second nationally representative survey of distance education undertaken by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). This survey was conducted in winter 1998–99, and collected information about the 12-month 1997–98 academic year. The first report, Distance Education in Higher Education Institutions (U.S. Department of Education 1997) was based on data from a 1995 NCES Postsecondary Education Quick Information System (PEQIS) survey of higher education institutions. The current report updates and expands upon the findings from the previous report in several important ways. Perhaps most significantly, the current survey expands the universe of institutions from which it collected data, from higher education institutions to all 2-year and 4-year postsecondary institutions. In addition, this report also presents new information about fields of study and instructional levels of courses and programs offered through distance education, as well as information about how tuition and fees charged for distance education courses compare to those charged for on-campus courses. Finally, this report also provides trend information for higher education institutions, including changes in the percentage of higher education institutions offering distance education courses, enrollments and course offerings, degree and certificate programs, as well as technologies used to deliver distance education courses.
Institutions and Enrollments
Evidence suggests that distance education is becoming an increasingly visible feature of postsecondary education in this country. This report provides descriptive information about all 2-year and 4-year postsecondary education institutions that offered distance education in 1997–98, including enrollments in distance education courses at those institutions. Analyses of institutions and enrollments are presented by institutional type and size. Information is also included about enrollments by the level of course offerings (undergraduate or graduate/firstprofessional). Results of the 1997–98 PEQIS survey indicate that:
Comprehensive information about the courses available through distance education and enrollments in those courses has not been widely available. To address this gap in the knowledge base, this report provides information about total courses and college-level, credit-granting courses offered through distance education by all postsecondary institutions. Analyses of course offerings are presented by institutional type, general field of study, and instructional level of the course (undergraduate or graduate/firstprofessional). According to the 1997–98 PEQIS survey:
Degree and Certificate Programs
While taking individual courses through distance education has the potential to increase access to postsecondary education among those who traditionally have not had access, it is the possibility of completing degree and certificate programs solely through distance education that offers the potential for the most dramatic changes in access and opportunity. This report presents information about the prevalence of distance education degree and certificate programs in all postsecondary institutions by institutional type, level of the degree and certificate programs, and general field of study. The 1997–98 PEQIS survey indicates that:
Distance Education Technologies Employed
Changes in the types of technologies available for delivering distance education, including changes in the capabilities of networking technology and the rise of the Internet, have played a role in the adoption of distance education by postsecondary institutions. This report provides information about the types of technologies employed by all postsecondary institutions to deliver distance education in 1997–98. To provide insight into the dynamic nature of distance education technologies, the report also includes information about institutions' plans for the use of different technologies in the next 3 years. According to the 1997–98 PEQIS survey:
Tuition and Fees
While distance education can be seen as a cost savings approach to providing postsecondary education, the costs in developing, implementing, and delivering distance education courses can also be substantial. One might expect that institutions might pass these costs or cost savings on by charging different tuition and fees to students enrolled in distance education courses. To examine this issue, this report provides information about how tuition and fees for distance education courses compare to those for traditional campus-based courses. Analyses are presented by institutional type. Findings from the 1997–98 PEQIS survey indicate that:
Changes in Distance Education Since 1994–95
While this report primarily presents findings on various aspects of distance education for all postsecondary institutions for 1997–98, an analysis of the data for the subset of higher education institutions allows trend comparisons with the previous NCES report on distance education. Changes in distance education since 1994–953 are presented in this report in terms of the percentage of institutions offering distance education courses, the number of distance education courses offered, the number of enrollments in distance education courses, the availability of distance education degree and certificate programs, and the technologies used to deliver distance education courses. Findings indicate that:
This PEQIS report presents findings for the 12- month 1997–98 academic year about the status of distance education in all postsecondary education institutions. It also includes an analysis of trends in distance education since 1994–95 for the subset of higher education institutions. In the most general terms, it finds that distance education appears to have become a common feature of many postsecondary education institutions and that, by their own accounts, it will become only more common in the future. While findings from this report will help to inform stakeholders—including individuals considering a postsecondary education, faculty and administrators at postsecondary institutions, providers of technologies used for distance education, and policymakers at federal, state, and local levels—they do not address many of the questions about distance education. These questions include issues related to:
It is a dynamic time for postsecondary education institutions facing the opportunities and challenges brought by technological innovation. As Gladieux and Swail (1999) assert: given the fact that computer and related technologies are evolving so quickly—and new providers and brokers of higher education proliferating so rapidly—no one knows how traditional higher education will change.
1 If a student was enrolled in multiple courses, institutions were
instructed to count the student for each course in which he or she
was enrolled. Thus, enrollments may include duplicated counts of
2 If a course had multiple sections or was offered multiple times during the academic year, institutions were instructed to count it as only one course.
3 The first PEQIS study, conducted in fall 1995, sometimes asked for information about the current time frame (i.e., fall 1995), and sometimes asked for information about academic year 1994–95. Thus, both dates appear in the discussion of the results.
4 In 1997–98, the wording of the computer-based technologies was changed to more accurately reflect how these technologies are used. For this comparison, other computer-based technology (e.g., Internet) is considered to be approximately equivalent to Internet courses using asynchronous computer-based instruction.