Published Online: January 19, 2000
Published in Print: January 19, 2000, as Colleges

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Distance-Learning Explosion: Colleges and universities have embraced distance learning, doubling the number of courses offered and enrollment in them between the 1994-95 and 1997-98 academic years, a study has found.

About 44 percent of the nation's 3,700 two-year and four-year colleges and universities offered distance education in 1997-98, up from 33 percent in 1994-95, according to the report by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics.The study defined distance education as information sent via audio, video, or computer to off-campus sites.

Released last month, the report finds that the institutions offered more than 52,200 courses for credit through distance-learning programs in 1997-98, up from 25,700 in 1994-95. Some 1.6 million students were enrolled in the courses, an increase from 753,000 in 1994-95.

"In the early days, the goal of distance education was to extend the classroom experience—to replicate, as faithfully as remote locations can, the experiences of students who studied on campus," Gary W. Phillips, the acting commissioner of education statistics, said in a statement released with the report.

"The promise of today's information technologies is different," Mr. Phillips said. "They hold the prospect of an entirely new learning environment. ... They also offer a brand-new tool to foster our nation's long-term commitment to equitable access."

During the 1997-98 academic year, 79 percent of public four-year institutions and 62 percent of public two-year colleges offered distance learning, the study found. About 22 percent of private four-year institutions and 6 percent of private two-year schools offered such classes.

The cost of distance education was comparable to traditional classes at 57 percent of all postsecondary institutions studied, the report says. No comparable figures are available for 1994-95.

While a majority of students who use distance education are likely to be older than traditional college-age students, many 18-year-olds and their peers are using technology to access classes not offered on their campuses, Sally M. Johnstone, the director of the Western Cooperative for Educational Telecommunications at the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education in Denver, said in an interview.

Free copies of "Distance Education at Postsecondary Education Institutions: 1997-98" are available by calling the National Center for Eduction Statistics at (877) 4ED-PUBS or online at nces.ed.gov.

—Julie Blair jblair@epe.org

Vol. 19, Issue 19, Page 6

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