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Distance learning

Question:
How many students take distance learning courses at the postsecondary level?

Response:

Distance education1 courses and programs provide students with flexible learning opportunities. These became especially important in the spring of 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic began to disrupt education in the United States.2 In fall 2020, some 75 percent (11.8 million) of all undergraduate students were enrolled in at least one distance education course, and 44 percent (7.0 million) of all undergraduate students exclusively took distance education courses. The number of undergraduate students enrolled in at least one distance education course was 97 percent higher in 2020 than prior to the pandemic in fall 2019 (11.8 million vs. 6.0 million). The number of undergraduate students exclusively enrolled in distance education courses was 186 percent higher in 2020 than in 2019 (7.0 million vs. 2.4 million).

The percentage of undergraduate students enrolled exclusively in distance education courses varied by control of institution (i.e., public, private nonprofit, or private for-profit). In fall 2020, the percentage of students at private for-profit institutions who took distance education courses exclusively (60 percent) was higher than that of students at public institutions (46 percent) and private nonprofit institutions (34 percent). In particular, the percentage of students who took distance education courses exclusively was highest at private for-profit 4-year institutions (73 percent). Despite enrolling only 4 percent of undergraduates, private for-profit 4-year institutions accounted for 6 percent of undergraduates who were enrolled exclusively in distance education courses.

1 Distance education uses one or more technologies to deliver instruction to students who are separated from the instructor and to support regular and substantive interaction between the student and the instructor synchronously or asynchronously. Technologies used for instruction may include the following: the internet; one-way and two-way transmissions through open broadcasts, closed circuit, cable, microwave, broadband lines, fiber optics, satellite, or wireless communication devices; audio conferencing; and videocassettes, DVDs, and CD-ROMs, only if the videocassettes, DVDs, and CD-ROMs are used in a course in conjunction with the technologies listed above.

2 According to the 201920 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS:20), 84 percent of undergraduate students reported having some or all classes moved to online-only instruction in spring 2020 due to the pandemic. For more information, see the First Look at the Impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic on Undergraduate Student Enrollment, Housing, and Finances (Preliminary Data) (NCES 2021-456).

SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics. (2022). Undergraduate Enrollment. Condition of Education. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences. Retrieved May 31, 2022, from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator/cha.

Numbers in figure titles reflect original numeration from source Condition of Education indicators.


Among postbaccalaureate students in fall 2020, some 2.2 million (or 71 percent) enrolled in at least one distance education course. Some 1.6 million students, or 52 percent of total postbaccalaureate enrollment, took distance education courses exclusively. These were higher than the percentages in 2019. Specifically, 1.3 million students, or 42 percent of all postbaccalaureate students, enrolled in at least one distance education course in 2019 and 1.0 million students, or 33 percent, took distance education courses exclusively.


Percentage of undergraduate students at degree-granting postsecondary institutions who enrolled exclusively in distance education courses, by level and control of institution: Fall 2020

The data in this figure is described in the surrounding text.

# Rounds to zero.

NOTE: Data are for the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Postbaccalaureate degree programs include master's and doctoral programs, as well as professional doctoral programs such as law, medicine, and dentistry. Degree-granting institutions grant associate's or higher degrees and participate in Title IV federal financial aid programs. Distance education uses one or more technologies to deliver instruction to students who are separated from the instructor and to support regular and substantive interaction between the student and the instructor synchronously or asynchronously. Technologies used for instruction may include the following: the internet; one-way and two-way transmissions through open broadcasts, closed circuit, cable, microwave, broadband lines, fiber optics, satellite, or wireless communication devices; audio conferencing; and videocassettes, DVDs, and CD-ROMs, only if the videocassettes, DVDs, and CD-ROMs are used in a course in conjunction with the technologies listed above.


The percentage of postbaccalaureate students enrolled exclusively in distance education courses varied by control of institution (i.e., public, private nonprofit, or private for-profit). In fall 2020, the percentage of students at private for-profit institutions who took distance education courses exclusively (89 percent) was higher than the percentages of students at private nonprofit (49 percent) and public (48 percent) institutions who took distance education courses exclusively. The percentage of students who did not take any distance education courses was higher for those enrolled at private nonprofit (33 percent) and public (30 percent) institutions than for those at private for-profit (6 percent) institutions.

SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics. (2022). Postbaccalaureate Enrollment. Condition of Education. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences. Retrieved May 31, 2022, from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator/chb.

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