Distance Education Becomes a Major Part of Course Catalogues

December 30, 2008

Washington — A majority of colleges in the United States — 65 percent — offer college-level, credit-granting distance-education courses, according to a survey released today by the National Center for Education Statistics, an arm of the U.S. Department of Education.

It is another sign that distance education is becoming a staple of college life. Although the survey did not compare the present to the past, recent data from colleges indicate a jump in online enrollment. Last summer, The Chronicle reported, the Tennessee Board of Regents noted that summer enrollment in online courses was up 29 percent over last year. At Brevard Community College, in Cocoa, Fla., enrollment in summer online courses rose nearly 25 percent. Harrisburg Area Community College, in Pennsylvania, saw its summer online enrollment climb 15 percent to 20 percent.

Many observers attributed those spikes to $4-per-gallon gasoline at the time — going online was cheaper than driving to class — but others attributed them to a longer-term embrace of distance teaching.

The new survey, done in 2007, polled 1,600 degree-granting postsecondary institutions in the 50 states and the District of Columbia; 90 percent of them responded.

The courses they offered reflected a variety of education methods: 61 percent of two- and four-year institutions said they gave online courses (usually meaning all instruction is online), 35 percent said they gave hybrid or blended courses (combining online and in-class work), and 26 percent reported other types of college-level, credit-granting distance-education courses (which might include postal correspondence courses).

Over all, the two- and four-year institutions in the survey estimated 12.2 million enrollments (or registrations) in college-level, credit-granting distance-education courses in the 2006-7 academic year. —Josh Fischman