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Distance Education in Higher Education Institutions
NCES 98062
October 1997

Highlights

The Survey on Distance Education Courses Offered by Higher Education Institutions was requested by the National Institute on Postsecondary Education, Libraries, and Lifelong Learning, U.S. Department of Education. The survey was designed to provide the first nationally representative data about distance education course offerings in higher education institutions. The study obtained information about the percentage of institutions that currently offer and that plan to offer distance education courses in the next 3 years; distance education course offerings, including the types of technologies used to deliver distance education courses and the sites to which such courses are directed; distance education enrollments and completions; characteristics of distance education courses and programs; distance education program goals; future plans for distance education course offerings; and factors keeping institutions from starting or expanding their distance education offerings. For this study, distance education was defined as education or training courses delivered to remote (off-campus) locations via audio, video, or computer technologies. Data were collected in fall 1995 from 2-year and 4-year higher education institutions and were weighted to provide national estimates.

  • A third of higher education institutions offered distance education courses in fall 1995, another quarter planned to offer such courses in the next 3 years, and 42 percent did not offer and did not plan to offer distance education courses in the next 3 years (Table 1). Public institutions offered distance education courses with much greater frequency than did private institutions: 58 percent of public 2-year and 62 percent of public 4-year institutions offered distance education courses in fall 1995, compared with 2 percent of private 2-year and 12 percent of private 4-year institutions
  • An estimated 25,730 distance education courses with different catalog numbers were offered by higher education institutions in academic year 1994-95 (Table 2). Public 4-year institutions offered 45 percent, public 2-year institutions 39 percent, and private 4-year institutions 16 percent of the distance education courses in 1994-95. About half of the institutions that offered distance education courses in fall 1995 offered 10 or fewer such courses in academic year 1994-95 (Figure 2)
  • Distance education courses were delivered by two-way interactive video at 57 percent, and by one-way prerecorded video at 52 percent of the institutions offering distance education courses in fall 1995 (Table 3). About a quarter of the institutions used two-way audio with one-way video, and computer-based technologies other than two-way online interactions during instruction (e.g., the Internet) to deliver their distance education courses.
  • About half of the higher education institutions that offered distance education courses in fall 1995 directed such courses to students' homes (Table 4). Institutions also frequently directed distance education courses to other branches of their institution (39 percent) and other college campuses (35 percent). About a quarter of the institutions directed distance education courses to elementary/secondary schools.
  • More higher education institutions offered distance education courses designed primarily for undergraduate students (81 percent of institutions) and graduate students (34 percent of institutions) than for any other type of student (Table 6). Professionals seeking recertification were targeted by 39 percent, and other workers seeking skill updating or retraining were targeted by 49 percent of institutions that offered distance education courses in fall 1995 (Table 8).
  • There were an estimated 753,640 students formally enrolled in distance education courses in academic year 1994-95 (Table 10). Public 2-year institutions enrolled 55 percent, public 4-year institutions 31 percent, and private 4-year institutions 14 percent of the students enrolled in distance education courses in 1994-95.
  • About a quarter of the institutions that offered distance education courses in fall 1995 offered degrees that students could complete by taking distance education courses exclusively, and 7 percent offered certificates that could be completed that way (Table 11). There were an estimated 690 degrees and 170 certificates offered in fall 1995 that students could receive by taking distance education courses exclusively. An estimated 3,430 students received degrees and 1,970 received certificates in 1994-95 by taking distance education courses exclusively.
  • Access to library resources varied depending on the type of library resource. Access to an electronic link with the institution's library was available for some or all courses at 56 percent of the institutions, and cooperative agreements for students to use other libraries were available at 62 percent of institutions (tables 12 and 13). Institution library staff were assigned to assist distance education students at 45 percent of the institutions, while library deposit collections were available at remote sites at 39 percent of institutions.
  • Increasing student access was an important goal for most distance education programs, with making courses available at convenient locations rated as very important by 82 percent of institutions, and reducing time constraints for course taking rated as very important by 63 percent of institutions (Table 16). Making educational opportunities more affordable for students, another aspect of student access, was rated as very important by about half of the institutions. Goals concerning increasing the institution's audiences and enrollments were also perceived as quite important, with increasing the institution's access to new audiences and increasing the institution's enrollments rated as very important by 64 percent and 54 percent of institutions, respectively. In general, institutions indicated that most of the goals were met to a minor or moderate extent. Goals particularly likely to be met to a major extent concerned student access.
  • Among all institutions, including those with no future plans to offer distance education courses, factors frequently reported as keeping the institution from starting or expanding their distance education course offerings to a major extent were program development costs (43 percent), limited technological infrastructure to support distance education (31 percent), and equipment failures and costs of maintaining equipment (23 percent; Table 23). However, in general, most factors were not perceived to be major hindrances keeping institutions from starting or expanding their distance education offerings.

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