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Distance Education in Higher Education Institutions
NCES 98062
October 1997

Summary

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. Public institutions offered distance education courses much more frequently than did private institutions, with 58 percent of public 2-year and 62 percent of public 4-year institutions offering distance education courses in fall 1995, compared with 2 percent of private 2-year and 12 percent of private 4-year institutions.

In academic year 1994-95, higher education institutions offered an estimated 25,730 distance education courses with different catalog numbers. 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. Three-quarters of the institutions that offered distance education courses in fall 1995 used courses developed by the institution's subject area departments or schools, and 30 percent used courses developed by commercial or noncommercial vendors.

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. About a quarter of the institutions used two-way audio with one-way video and a quarter used computer-based technologies other than two way online interactions during instruction (e.g., the Internet) to deliver their distance education courses. Institutions that offered distance education courses in fall 1995 frequently directed courses to students' homes (49 percent), 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.

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. Thirteen percent of institutions offered distance education courses designed primarily for professional continuing education students. 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.

There were an estimated 753,640 students formally enrolled in distance education courses in academic year 1994-95. 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 this way. There were an estimated 690 degrees and 170 certificates offered in fall 1995 that students could receive by taking distance education courses exclusively. Most institutions that offered degrees or certificates that students could receive in this way only offered a few of them: 44 percent of institutions offering such degrees offered only 1 degree, and 61 percent of institutions offering such certificates offered only 1 certificate. An estimated 3,430 students received degrees and 1,970 received certificates in 1994-95 by taking distance education courses exclusively.

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. 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. In general, institutions that perceived a particular goal as very important more frequently indicated that the goal had been met to a moderate or major extent, while institutions that perceived a goal as somewhat important more frequently indicated that the goal had been met to a minor extent.

Among institutions that offered distance education courses in fall 1995 and those planning to offer such courses in the next 3 years, about half to three-quarters of the institutions plan to start or increase their distance education course offerings to most types of remote sites. About three-quarters of these institutions plan to start or increase their use of two-way interactive video, two-way online (computer-based) interactions during instruction, and other computer based technologies to deliver their distance education courses in the next 3 years.

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). 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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