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Distance Education in Higher Education Institutions
NCES 98062
October 1997

Distance Education Course Offerings

This section provides information about the distance education courses offered by higher education institutions. These are the first nationally representative data about such distance education offerings. Institutions were asked whether they currently offer any distance education courses or planned to offer any such courses in the next 3 years. Institutions that currently offered distance education courses (i.e., offered distance education courses in fall 1995) were asked about the number of courses offered in academic year 1994-95, the types of technologies used to deliver courses, the kinds of remote sites to which courses were directed, the types of students for whom courses were designed, and the primary developers of distance education course curricula.

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). A much greater percentage of public than of private institutions offered distance education courses: 58 percent of public 2-year and 62 percent of public 4-year institutions offered distance education courses, compared with 2 percent of private 2-year and 12 percent of private 4-year institutions. The percentage of institutions offering distance education courses also varied by institutional size and geographic region, with fewer small institutions and fewer institutions in the Northeast offering distance education.

Some of the variation in distance education offerings by region and size was related to the control of the institutions: 66 percent of institutions in the Northeast are private, compared with about half of the institutions in the other regions; and 72 percent of small institutions (i.e., those with less than 3,000 students) are private, compared with 24 percent of medium institutions (those with 3,000 to 9,999 students), and 11 percent of large institutions (those with 10,000 or more students; not shown in tables). This report focuses on presenting the findings by institutional type (which is a combination of institutional level and control), but the findings by region and size are presented in the tables for those interested in these variables.

About a third (36 percent) of higher education institutions offering distance education courses in fall 1995 had a separate distance education department or office (Figure 1). Large institutions were particularly likely to have such a department or office.

Number of Distance Education Courses Offered

In academic year 1994-95, an estimated 25,730 distance education courses with different catalog numbers4 were offered by higher education institutions (Table 2). Public 4-year institutions offered 45 percent of the distance education courses, public 2-year institutions offered 39 percent, and private 4-year institutions offered 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, with 24 percent offering 1 to 4 courses and 21 percent offering 5 to 10 courses (Figure 2). About a quarter of the institutions offered more than 25 distance education courses.

Institutions were asked how many of their distance education courses are offered only as distance education courses (i.e., there is no equivalent course taught on campus). Institutions offered an estimated 3,260 courses only as distance education courses (not shown in tables). The percentage of distance education courses offered exclusively through distance education did not vary by institutional type. Public 2-year institutions offered 9 percent of their distance education courses exclusively as distance education courses; public 4- year institutions, 13 percent; and private 4-year institutions, 19 percent (Figure 3).

Types of Technologies Used to Deliver Distance Education Courses

Two-way interactive video and one-way prerecorded video were used to deliver distance education courses by 57 percent and 52 percent, respectively, 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). Each of the other technologies was used by 14 percent or fewer of the institutions.

Public 4-year institutions were more likely than other types of institutions to use two-way interactive video and two-way audio with one-way video, while public 2-year institutions were more likely than other types of institutions to use one-way prerecorded video (Table 3). Two-way online interactions during instruction and other computer-based technologies were used more frequently by private 4- year than by public 2-year institutions.

Delivery of Distance Education Courses to Remote Sites

About half of the higher education institutions that offered distance education courses in fall 1995 directed distance education courses to students' homes (Table 4). Other sites to which institutions frequently directed courses were 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, and 18 percent directed courses to work sites. Courses were directed to libraries, community-based organizations (e.g., YMCA), and correctional institutions by 10 percent or less of the institutions.

The types of remote sites to which courses were directed showed some variation by institutional type. For example, public 4-year institutions directed courses to other college campuses more frequently than did public 2-year or private 4-year institutions, while public 2-year institutions directed courses to students' homes more frequently than did public 4-year institutions (Table 4).

Institutions were asked how many of their distance education courses were directed to each type of remote site. If a course was directed to more than one type of site, the institution was instructed to count the course for each type of site to which it was directed. Thus, the numbers of courses directed to specific sites are duplicated counts. Institutions directed an estimated 10,380 distance education courses to students' homes and 9,580 courses to other branches of their institution (Table 5). A sizable number of courses were also directed to other college campuses and work sites.

Primary Student Audience for Distance Education Courses

More higher education institutions offered distance education courses designed primarily for undergraduate and graduate students than for any other type of student (Table 6). Eighty-one percent of institutions that offered distance education courses in fall 1995 reported offering distance education courses designed primarily for undergraduate students, and 34 percent reported offering courses designed primarily for graduate students. Fewer institutions offered courses designed primarily for the other types of students listed. Thirteen percent of institutions offered distance education courses designed primarily for professional continuing education students, and 6 percent or fewer offered courses designed primarily for each of the following types of students: elementary/secondary, adult basic education, other continuing education students, and other types of students.

Public 2-year institutions were more likely than public 4-year institutions, which in turn were more likely than private 4-year institutions, to offer distance education courses designed primarily for undergraduate students (Table 6). Public 4-year institutions also were more likely than other types of institutions to offer distance education courses designed primarily for professional continuing education students.

Institutions were asked how many of their distance education courses were designed primarily for each type of student. They were instructed not to double count courses (i.e., if a course was designed for more than one type of student, they were to count it for the group for which it was primarily designed). Institutions offered 15,680 courses designed primarily for undergraduate students and 7,590 courses designed primarily for graduate students (Table 7). Institutions offered many fewer courses primarily designed for other types of students. Public 2-year institutions offered more courses designed primarily for undergraduate students and public 4-year institutions offered more courses designed primarily for graduate students than did other types of institutions.

Individuals Targeted for Distance Education Courses

Professionals seeking recertification and other workers seeking skill updating or retraining were targeted by more institutions that offered distance education courses in fall 1995 than were other types of individuals (Table 8). Thirty-nine percent of institutions that offered distance education courses in fall 1995 targeted professionals seeking recertification, and 49 percent targeted other workers seeking skill updating or retraining. About 15 percent of institutions targeted individuals with disabilities, military personnel, and other types of individuals. Non-English-speaking individuals and Native Americans/Alaskan Natives on tribal lands were targeted by 3 percent and 7 percent of institutions, respectively. Public 4-year institutions were more likely than other types of institutions to target professionals seeking recertification and other workers seeking skill updating or retraining.

Primary Course Developers

Three-quarters of the higher education institutions that offered distance education courses in fall 1995 used distance education course curricula developed by the institution's subject area departments or schools (Table 9). Courses developed by commercial or noncommercial vendors were used by 30 percent of the institutions. Courses from other types of developers were each used by 12 percent or fewer of the institutions. More public 2-year institutions than public and private 4-year institutions used courses developed by commercial or noncommercial vendors, while more public and private 4-year than public 2-year institutions used courses developed by the institution's subject area departments or schools.

Institutions were asked how many of their distance education course curricula were developed primarily by various types of developers. Institutions were instructed not to double count courses, i.e., they were to count each course only once and to count it for its primary developer. Two-thirds of the distance education courses offered in fall 1995 were developed by the institution's subject area departments or schools, and 18 percent were developed by commercial or noncommercial vendors (Figure 4). Each of the other types of developers composed 5 percent or fewer of the distance education courses.


4Courses with different catalog numbers excluded multiple sections of the same course (e.g., five sections of English 101 would be counted as one course).

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