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Distance Education in Higher Education Institutions
NCES 98062
October 1997

Distance Education Enrollments and Completions

Number of Students Enrolled in Distance Education Courses

This section provides the first nationally representative information about distance education enrollments and completions. Institutions that offered any distance education courses in fall 1995 were asked about the number of students formally enrolled in distance education courses, whether students could complete degrees or certificates by taking distance education courses exclusively, and the number of students completing such degrees or certificates.

Institutions that offered any distance education courses in fall 1995 were asked how many students were formally enrolled in the institution's distance education courses in academic year 1994-95. 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. There were an estimated 753,640 students formally enrolled in distance education courses at these higher education institutions in academic year 1994-955 (Table 10). Public 2-year institutions enrolled the most distance education students: 414,160 (55 percent) of the students enrolled in distance education courses were at public 2-year institutions. Public 4-year institutions also enrolled many distance education students, with 234,020 students, i.e., 31 percent, of the students enrolled in distance education courses in 1994-95.

Degrees or Certificates Received Through Distance Education

Institutions were asked whether students could complete degrees or certificates by taking distance education courses exclusively, and if so, how many different degrees or certificates could be received in this way. 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 this way (Table 11). More public and private 4-year than public 2-year institutions offered degrees that students could complete by taking distance education courses exclusively.

There were an estimated 690 degrees and 170 certificates offered in fall 1995 that students could receive by taking distance education courses exclusively (Table 11). Public 4-year institutions offered more of these degrees than did private 4-year and public 2-year institutions, and offered more certificates than did public 2-year institutions. Most institutions that offered degrees or certificates that students could receive by taking distance education courses exclusively only offered a few of them. Forty-four percent of institutions offering such degrees offered 1 degree, and 23 percent offered 2 degrees; among institutions offering certificates, 61 percent offered 1 certificate and 27 percent offered 2 or 3 certificates (Figure 6).

Institutions were asked how many students received degrees or certificates in academic year 1994-95 by taking distance education courses exclusively. An estimated 3,430 students received degrees and 1,970 received certificates by taking distance education courses exclusively6 (Table 11). Public 4-year institutions had many more degree and certificate recipients than did public 2-year institutions, and more certificate recipients than did private 4-year institutions. About half (49 percent) of the institutions that offered degrees that students could complete by taking distance education courses exclusively had 10 or fewer degree recipients in academic year 1994- 95 (not shown in tables). The distribution of certificate recipients is not estimated because there are too few cases for a reliable estimate.


5 To put this number into context, there were approximately 14.3 million students enrolled in higher education institutions in fall 1994 (U.S. Department of Education. National Center for Education Statistics. Digest of Education Statistics 1996. Washington, DC: 1996; information from table 174).

6 To put these numbers into context, there were approximately 2.2 million degrees awarded at the associate through doctorate level and approximately 72,000 less-than-1-year awards in 1992-93, the most recent year for which data are available (U.S. Department of Education. National Center for Education Statistics. Digest of Education Statistics 1996. Washington, DC: 1996; information from tables 240 and 242).

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