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Distance Education at Degree-Granting Postsecondary Institutions: 2000-2001
NCES 2003017
July 2003


This report presents data from a nationally representative survey on distance education at degreegranting postsecondary institutions undertaken by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The data provide national estimates on the status of distance education in 2000–2001, including information about institutions offering distance education, enrollment and course offerings, degree and certificate programs, and distance education technologies. In addition, institutions were asked to report on program goals, factors keeping institutions from starting or expanding their distance education programs, participation in distance education consortia, and information on issues related to accommodations for students with disabilities.

This is the third survey of its kind undertaken by NCES. The previous two studies—Distance Education in Higher Education Institutions (Lewis, Alexander, and Farris 1997) , which collected information for 1994–95, and Distance Education at Postsecondary Institutions: 1997–98 (Lewis et al. 1999)—looked at slightly different populations. While many of the topics in this report are the same as those in the two previous reports, the data from the three surveys are not completely comparable because of the differences in the populations used for the studies.1

Distance education was defined for this study as education or training courses delivered to remote (off-campus) sites via audio, video (live or prerecorded), or computer technologies, including both synchronous (i.e., simultaneous) and asynchronous (i.e., not simultaneous) instruction. The following types of courses were not included in this study: (1) courses conducted exclusively on campus; (2) courses conducted exclusively via written correspondence; and (3) courses in which the instructor traveled to a remote site to deliver instruction in person. However, distance education courses may include a small amount of on-campus course or lab work, on-campus exams, or occasional on-campus meetings.

The survey was conducted by NCES in the spring of 2002 using the Postsecondary Education Quick Information System (PEQIS). PEQIS is a survey system designed to collect small amounts of issue-oriented data from a previously recruited, nationally representative sample of institutions, with minimal burden on respondents and within a relatively short period of time. Questionnaires were mailed to PEQIS survey coordinators at approximately 1,600 postsecondary institutions in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Coordinators were informed that the survey was designed to be completed by the person(s) at the institution most knowledgeable about the institution's distance education course offerings. The unweighted survey response rate was 94 percent; the weighted response rate was also 94 percent. Data were adjusted for questionnaire nonresponse and weighted to yie ld national estimates that represent all Title IV-eligible, degree-granting institutions in the United States.2 Detailed information about the survey methodology is provided in appendix A, and the questionnaire can be found in appendix B.

In addition to national estimates, selected findings are presented by the following institutional characteristics:

  • Institutional type: public 2-year, private 2-year, public 4-year, and private 4-year. Institutional type was created from a combination of level (2-year and 4-year) and control (public and private). Two-year institutions are defined as institutions at which the highest level of offering is at least 2 but less than 4 years (below the baccalaureate degree); 4-year institutions are those at which the highest level of offering is 4 or more years (baccalaureate or higher degree). Private institutions comprise private nonprofit and private for-profit institutions; these institutions are reported together because there are too few private for-profit institutions in the survey sample to report them as a separate category.
  • Size of institution: less than 3,000 students (small); 3,000 to 9,999 students (medium); and 10,000 or more students (large).

All specific statements of comparisons made in this report have been tested for statistical significance using t-tests adjusted for multiple comparisons and are significant at the 95 percent confidence level or better. However, not all significant comparisons have been presented in this report.

1 The sample for the first distance education survey consisted of 2-year and 4-year higher education institutions in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. At the time, NCES defined higher education institutions as institutions that are accredited at the college level by an agency recognized by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education. Higher education institutions are a subset of all postsecondary institutions. The sample for the second distance education survey consisted of 2-year and 4-year postsecondary institutions (both higher education and other postsecondary institutions) in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The third survey was sent to 2-year and 4-year Title IV-eligible, degree-granting institutions in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. This change was necessary because of the way NCES now categorizes postsecondary institutions. The sample for the third survey is discussed in more detail in the survey methodology presented in appendix A.

2 Institutions participating in Title IV federal student financial aid programs (such as Pell grants or Stafford loans) are accredited by an agency or organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, have a program of over 300 clock hours or 8 credit hours, have been in business for at least 2 years, and have a signed Program Participation Agreement with the Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE), U.S. Department of Education. Degree-granting institutions are those that offer an associate's, bachelor's, master's, doctor's, or first -professional degree (Knapp et al. 2001).