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“Last Look” at the Pre-COVID Higher Education Landscape: NC-SARA Releases Latest-Available Data on Postsecondary Distance Education Enrollment

Updated by nortiz@nc-sara.org on Wed, 12/16/2020 - 13:24
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                         CONTACT
December 16, 2020                                                                         media@nc-sara.org

“Last Look” at the Pre-COVID Higher Education Landscape: NC-SARA Releases Latest-Available Data on Postsecondary Distance Education Enrollment

BOULDER, CO – The National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA) today released its fifth annual distance education enrollment report and dataset, which analyzes the last available data on distance education enrollment before the COVID-19 pandemic forced a fundamental shift in the delivery of higher education across America. View the report here.

NC-SARA President and CEO Dr. Lori Williams said, “These data will serve as an important marker to help us understand the long-term ramifications of the pandemic on our nation’s postsecondary education system. The report illustrates a steady increase in student interest in interstate distance learning opportunities pre-pandemic, and there’s certainly no doubt in my mind that the next available 2020 data that will be released in 2021 will confirm a dramatic increase in distance education enrollments.”

Dr. Williams continued, “What’s really going to be interesting, however, is how the data will continue to evolve after the pandemic has ended. How will COVID alter students’ perspectives on and preferences in higher education modality in the long run, and how will institutions adapt to meet changes in demand? What clues do these data offer us that might shed light on how the higher education landscape will be permanently altered in the wake of this once-in-a-century pandemic?”

According to the report, which analyzes data from fall 2019, more than three million students were enrolled exclusively in distance education programs at 2,088 NC-SARA-participating institutions – a 7.5 percent increase over fall 2018 enrollments.

Other key findings from the report include:

  • Public institutions made up 52.7% (1,589,719) of total reported distance education enrollments. Most distance education students at public institutions are located in-state (1,275,381, or 80.2%).
  • Private non-profit institutions represented 30.6% (924,463) of total reported distance education enrollments. The majority of distance education students at private non-profit institutions are located out-of-state (620,123 or 67.1%).
  • Private for-profit institutions made up 16.7% (502,263) of total reported distance education enrollments. Most distance education students at private for-profit institutions are located out-of-state (461,252 or 91.8%). 
  • Two tribal institutions represent the remaining 499 enrollments.
  • Western Governors University, a private non-profit institution, reported the most distance education enrollments at 135,443. The private for-profit institution with the most reported distance education enrollments is the University of Phoenix at 93,871. The public institution with the most total reported distance education enrollments was University of Maryland Global Campus (45,975).

For the second year in a row, NC-SARA also collected information about Out-of-State Learning Placements (OOSLP), which provides insight into in-person distance education programming that students engage in across state lines, such as clinical hours for nursing, practice teaching hours for pre-service teachers, internships, etc. Notably, the number of OOSLP reported for calendar year 2019 increased to 349,930, a 45.8% increase over 2018 (239,955).

According to the available data, the greatest number of learning placements was in healthcare-related programs (52.8%), followed by education (10.9%) and business (5.9%).

To see the report in full, click here. To learn more about NC-SARA, click here.

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The National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA) is a voluntary, interstate reciprocal approach to state oversight of postsecondary distance education. The initiative is administered by the country’s four regional higher education compacts (MHEC, NEBHE, SREB and WICHE) and coordinated by NC-SARA. States and institutions that choose to participate agree to operate under common standards and procedures, providing a more uniform and less costly regulatory environment for institutions, more focused oversight responsibilities for states, and better resolution of student complaints. www.nc-sara.org