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Distance Education at Degree-Granting Postsecondary Institutions: 2000-2001
NCES 2003017
July 2003

Executive Summary

Introduction

This study, conducted through the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Postsecondary Education Quick Information System (PEQIS), was designed to provide current national estimates on distance education at 2-year and 4-year Title IV-eligible, degree-granting institutions. Distance education was defined for this study as education or training courses delivered to remote (off-campus) sites via audio, video (live or prerecorded), or computer technologies, including both synchronous (i.e., simultaneous) and asynchronous (i.e., not simultaneous) instruction.

Key Findings

The PEQIS survey provides national estimates for the 2000–2001 academic year on the number and proportion of institutions offering distance education courses, distance education enrollments and course offerings, 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 starting or expanding distance education offerings.

Institutions Offering Distance Education Courses

During the 12-month 2000–2001 academic year, 56 percent (2,320) of all 2-year and 4-year Title IV-eligible, degree-granting institutions offered distance education courses for any level or audience, (i.e., courses designed for all types of students, including elementary and secondary, college, adult education, continuing and professional education, etc.) (figure 1 and table 1). Twelve percent of all institutions indicated that they planned to start offering distance education courses in the next 3 years; 31 percent did not offer distance education courses in 2000–2001 and did not plan to offer these types of courses in the next 3 years.

Public institutions were more likely to offer distance education courses than were private institutions. In 2000–2001, 90 percent of public 2-year and 89 percent of public 4-year institutions offered distance education courses, compared with 16 percent of private 2-year and 40 percent of private 4-year institutions (table 1).

College-level, credit-granting distance education courses at either the undergraduate or graduate/first-professional level were offered by 55 percent of all 2-year and 4-year institutions (table 3). College-level, credit-granting distance education courses were offered at the undergraduate level by 48 percent of all institutions, and at the graduate level by 22 percent of all institutions. Fifty-two percent of institutions that had undergraduate programs offered credit-granting distance education courses at the undergraduate level (table 3).1 Further, college-level, credit-granting distance education courses were offered at the graduate/first-professional level by 52 percent of institutions that had graduate/first-professional programs (table 3).

Distance Education Enrollments and Course Offerings

In the 12-month 2000–2001 academic year, there were an estimated 3,077,000 enrollments in all distance education courses offered by 2-year and 4-year institutions (table 4). There were an estimated 2,876,000 enrollments in college-level, credit-granting distance education courses, with 82 percent of these at the undergraduate level (figure 2).

Consistent with the distributions of the percentage of institutions that offered distance education courses, most of the distance education course enrollments were in public 2-year and public 4-year institutions. Public 2-year institutions had the greatest number of enrollments in distance education courses, with 1,472,000 out of 3,077,000, or 48 percent of the total enrollments in distance education (figure 3 and table 4). Public 4-year institutions had 945,000 enrollments (31 percent of the total), and private 4-year institutions had 589,000 enrollments (19 percent of the total).2

About a quarter (22 percent) of institutions that offered distance education in 2000–2001 had 100 or fewer distance education enrollments, and 30 percent had 101 to 500 enrollments (figure 4 and table 5). In addition, 16 percent had 501 to 1,000 enrollments, 17 percent reported enrollments of 1,001 to 2,500, and 15 percent reported more than 2,500 enrollments for the 2000–2001 academic year. An estimated 127,400 different distance education courses for any level or audience were offered by 2- and 4-year institutions during the 12-month 2000–2001 academic year (table 6). An estimated 118,100 different college-level, credit-granting distance education courses were offered, with 76 percent at the undergraduate level.

Of the institutions that offered distance education courses in 2000–2001, about a quarter (27 percent) offered 10 or fewer courses, and 25 percent offered 11 to 30 courses (figure 5 and table 7). In addition, 15 percent of the institutions offered 31 to 50 courses, 19 percent offered 51 to 100 courses, and 15 percent offered more than 100 distance education courses.

Degree and Certificate Programs

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 (table 8). 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 (table 8).

Among institutions that offered distance education courses, public 4-year institutions were most likely (48 percent) to offer degree programs designed to be completed totally through distance education, followed by private 4-year institutions (33 percent) and public 2-year institutions (20 percent) (table 8). With regard to certificate programs, 25 percent of public 4-year institutions that offered distance education courses had certificate programs designed to be completed totally through distance education, compared with 15 percent of public 2-year and 14 percent of private 4-year institutions.

Distance Education Technologies

The Internet and two video technologies were most often used as primary modes of instructional delivery for distance education courses by institutions during the 12-month 2000–2001 academic year. Among institutions offering distance education courses, the majority (90 percent) reported that they offered Internet courses using asynchronous computer-based instruction (table 10). In addition, 43 percent of institutions that offered distance education courses offered Internet courses using synchronous computer-based instruction, 51 percent used two-way video with two-way audio, and 41 percent used one-way prerecorded video as a primary mode of instructional delivery for distance education courses.3 Further, of the institutions offering distance education courses, 29 percent used CD-ROM as a primary mode of instructional delivery and 19 percent used multi-mode packages.

Of the institutions that offered distance education courses in 2000–2001 or that planned to offer distance education courses in the next 3 years, 88 percent indicated plans to start using or increase the number of Internet courses using asynchronous computer-based instruction as a primary mode of instructional delivery for distance education courses (table 11). In addition, 62 percent of institutions indicated that they planned to start using or increase the number of Internet courses using synchronous computer-based instruction as a primary mode of instructional delivery, 40 percent planned to start using or increase the number of courses using two-way video with two-way audio, 39 percent planned to start using or increase the number of courses using CD-ROMs, and 31 percent planned to start using or increase the number of courses using multi-mode packages. About a quarter (23 percent) planned to start using or increase the number of courses using one-way prerecorded video.

Participation in Distance Education Consortia

Among the institutions that offered distance education in 2000–2001, 60 percent participated in some type of distance education consortium (figure 6 and table 13). Of those institutions that participated in a distance education consortium, 75 percent indicated that they participated in a state consortium, 50 percent in a system consortium (a consortium within a single university system or community college district), 27 percent in a regional consortium, 14 percent in a national consortium, and 4 percent in an international consortium.

Public 2-year institutions were more likely than either public or private 4-year institutions to participate in some type of distance education consortium. Eighty-three percent of public 2-year institutions reported that they participated in a consortium, compared with 68 percent of public 4-year institutions and 25 percent of private 4-year institutions (table 13).

Accommodations for Students With Disabilities

Of the 2- and 4-year institutions that offered distance education courses in 2000–2001, 45 percent had occasionally received requests in the last 3 years to provide accommodations in distance education courses for students with disabilities, 37 percent reported never receiving this type of request, 15 percent did not know if they had received requests for accommodations in the last 3 years, and 3 percent received requests frequently (table 14).

Almost all (95 percent) 2- and 4-year institutions that offered distance education courses in 2000– 2001 indicated that they had used web sites for their distance education courses (table 15). Of the institutions that had used web sites for distance education courses, 18 percent indicated 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 the web sites followed accessibility guidelines.

Distance Education Program Goals

Of those institutions that offered distance education courses in 2000–2001, a majority reported that increasing student access in various ways was a very important goal of their institution's distance education program. Sixty-nine percent of the institutions indicated that increasing student access by making courses available at convenient locations was very important, and 67 percent reported that increasing student access by reducing time constraints for course-taking was very important (table 16). In addition, 36 percent reported that making educational opportunities more affordable for students, another aspect of student access, was a very important goal of their distance education program.

On issues related to institutional enrollment and cost, 65 percent of institutions offering distance education indicated that increasing the institution's access to new audiences was very important, 60 percent reported that increasing institution enrollments was very important, and 15 percent reported that reducing the institution's per-student costs was very important (table 16). In addition, improving the quality of course offerings was considered to be an important goal for 57 percent of the institutions, and meeting the needs of local employers was rated as very important by 37 percent of the institutions. In general, institutions reported that most of the goals they considered to be important for their distance education programs were being met to a moderate or major extent. Increasing student access by making courses available at convenient locations was reported to have been met to a major extent by 37 percent of institutions that considered it an important goal, and increasing student access by reducing time constraints for course-taking was reported to have been met to a major extent by 32 percent of institutions that considered it an important goal (table 16).

Institutions that reported that a particular goal was very important to their distance education program more often indicated that the goal had been met to a major extent compared with institutions that reported the goal as somewhat important, while institutions that reported a goal as somewhat important more frequently indicated that the goal had been met to a minor extent compared with institutions that rated the goal as very important (table 18).

Factors That Keep Institutions From Starting or Expanding Distance Education Offerings

All institutions, including those with no future plans to offer distance education courses, were asked to rate the extent to which each of 15 factors was keeping them from starting or expanding their distance education course offerings. The response categories were "not at all," "minor extent," "moderate extent," and "major extent." Institutions did not consider most of the factors listed to be keeping them from starting or expanding their distance education course offerings. However, 26 percent of institutions reported that program development costs kept their institution from starting or expanding their distance education course offerings to a major extent (table 19).

Whether an institution offered distance education courses, or whether the institution planned to offer these courses in the next 3 years, was related to whether some factors were perceived to be keeping institutions from starting or expanding their distance education course offerings to a major extent. For institutions that did not plan to offer distance education in the next 3 years, factors perceived as keeping these institutions from starting distance education to a major extent included lack of fit with the institution's mission (44 percent), program development costs (33 percent), concerns about course quality (26 percent), limited technological infrastructure to support distance education (24 percent), and lack of perceived need (22 percent) (table 20). Except for program development costs, these factors were generally not perceived to be limiting the expansion of distance education courses to a major extent for institutions that offered distance education in 2000–2001.


1 Institutions can be characterized by whether they have any undergraduate programs or graduate/first-professional programs (either on campus or distance education). These programs are identified by the 2000 Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, "Institutional Characteristics Survey" (IPEDS–IC:2000). These programs, as identified by IPEDS, should not be confused with the level of distance education course offerings. Of the estimated 4,130 Title IV degree-granting institutions at the 2-year or 4-year level, 3,810 institutions have undergraduate programs, and 1,700 have graduate/first -professional programs; 1,380 of the institutions have programs at both levels.

2 Data for private 2-year institutions are not reported in a separate category because too few private 2-year institutions in the sample offered distance education courses in 2000–2001 to make reliable estimates. Data for private 2-year institutions are included in the totals and in analyses by other institutional characteristics.

3 Percentages sum to more than 100 because institutions could use different types of technologies as primary modes of instructional delivery for different distance education courses.

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