Distance education is emerging as an increasingly important component of higher education. For example, the Education Network of Maine, an independent arm of the Maine university system, televises college courses to 11 regional centers and other sites throughout the state, making available 85 courses and 14 degree programs which, in the fall of 1995, served about 2,900 students (Chronicle of Higher Education, May 31, 1996). Other university system and state networks for distance education include Colorado Electronic Community College, EdNet in Oregon, the Iowa Communications Network, the TeleLinking Network in Kentucky, and BadgerNet in Wisconsin. Cooperatives and consortia which cross state lines include the Western Governors University, a "virtual university" sponsored by the governors of 15 states (and one U.S. territory), and the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, which consists of 12 large universities, including Pennsylvania State University, the University of Iowa, Ohio State University, the University of Minnesota, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of Illinois (Chronicle of Higher Education, December 8, 1995).
These examples highlight the growing importance of distance education, but do not provide information about distance education on a national scale. To fill this information need, in 1995 the National Center for Education Statistics conducted a Survey on Distance Education Courses Offered by Higher Education Institutions, using the Postsecondary Education Quick Information System (PEQIS). For the study, distance education was defined as "education or training courses delivered to remote (off-campus) locations via audio, video, or computer technologies."
In fall 1995 a third of the institutions offered distance education courses, another quarter planned to offer such courses in the next 3 years, and 42 percent did not offer, and did not plan to offer, such courses in the next 3 years.
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, compared with 2 percent of private 2-year and 12 percent of private 4-year institutions. The percent 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 (Table 1).