Office of Planning & Budgeting

October 13, 2011

Distance Learning Growing, Primarily Among Non-Traditional Students

The U.S. Department of Education’s Stats in Brief report for October 2011 presents updated NCES  based research on the types of students engaging in distance learning (defined now as online, or live and interactive video/audio instruction through CD/DVD or webcast), and changes in distance learning over time. Distance education degree programs are those that utilize such classes exclusively.

The report found that, between 2000 and 2008, the percentage of undergraduate students enrolled in at least one distance education course increased from 8 percent to 20 percent, and enrollment in distance education degree programs doubled, from 2 percent of all undergraduates to 4 percent. Other interesting findings included:

  • Computer Science and Business majors have the highest rates of enrollment in distance education courses (27 percent and 24 percent vs. 20 percent, on average) and in distance degree programs (8 percent and 6 percent vs. 4 percent, on average). General studies, education and health care majors also have higher levels of enrollment in distance learning, while math, natural sciences, agriculture and humanities students are least likely to enroll.
  • Participation in distance education courses is highest for students in associate’s degree programs (25 percent), followed by bachelor’s (17 percent) and certificate programs (13 percent).
  • 12 percent of students attending for-profit schools were enrolled in distance education degree programs, compared to 3 percent of undergraduates at other types of institutions.
  • Nontraditional students are most likely to participate in distance learning: 56 percent of students 24 and older took distance education courses compared to 15 percent of students age 23 or younger, and 55 percent of students in distance education degree programs had at least one dependent. Furthermore, 62 percent of students in distance degree programs work full time.

To read more about this study, check out the full report here.