NC-SARA Releases Annual Data Report
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New Report: Out-of-State Exclusively Distance Education Enrollment Up 19% Above Pre-Pandemic Levels
Analysis of 2,300+ institutions finds single-year decrease in out-of-state exclusively distance education enrollment; public and non-profit institutions most likely to enroll students through interstate programs
BOULDER, CO – The National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA)—a nonprofit organization that helps expand access to educational opportunities and ensure more efficient, consistent, and effective regulation of distance education—today released its seventh annual data report, which provides insights into trends in student enrollment in distance education across more than 2,311 participating institutions. According to the report, the number of students enrolled in exclusively distance education decreased year-over-year between 2021-2022, but is still significantly higher than pre-pandemic levels.
“Even as the need for emergency online instruction has receded, enrollment in distance education is still markedly higher than before the pandemic began. Institutions of every type—from community colleges and public universities to minority-serving institutions and special mission institutions—are now using distance learning to expand access and reach new student demographics” said Marianne Boeke, interim president of NC-SARA. “We hope that this research can inform institutions as they work to deliver high-quality distance education experiences that meet the complex educational needs and aspirations of today’s students.”
The new report provides insights into the ways that postsecondary education providers continue to evolve and change in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic that forced nearly all institutions to offer some form of distance education. According to the report, the majority of exclusively distance education students still reside in-state. In Fall 2021, more than 1.5 million students attended out-of-state institutions exclusively via distance education under SARA, down from 1.7 million students in Fall 2020 and the peak of the pandemic (-12%), but up from 1.3 million students in Fall 2019 (+19%). Overall, 4,258,806 students attended SARA institutions exclusively through distance education, down from 5.8 million in Fall 2020 (-27%), but up more than 1.2 million from Fall 2019 (pre-pandemic) (41%).
The findings in the report are the result of analysis of data provided by the 2,311 U.S. colleges and universities in 49 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands that participate in SARA as a voluntary, nonprofit consortium that works with colleges and universities to assure compliance with SARA requirements.
In addition, out-of-state learning placements (OOSLP) rose in popularity. A critical component for many education, health and public service-related programs, out-of-state learning placements make it possible for students to complete clinical rotations, student teaching internships and other experiences required to earn a degree or licensure needed to practice in a particular profession. More than 315,504 students from SARA institutions participated in an out-of-state learning placement in 2021, up from 261,275 in 2020. The majority of out-of-state learning placements were in health professions (57%), followed by education (9.6%), business (5.2%), and public administration (3.7%), likely hastened by the growing number of working adults pursuing professional programs online and a nationwide shortage of healthcare professionals and teachers.
Institutional participation in SARA has continued to increase throughout the pandemic, 5%-per-year over the past two years. The number of institutions participating in SARA has continued to rise, with 110 more institutions reporting in 2021 than in 2020. Public institutions continue to make up the largest share of institutions that participate in SARA at 49.3%, followed closely by non-profit private institutions at 43.8%.
Each year, NC-SARA captures data on the number of students enrolled exclusively in distance education courses and out-of-state learning placements from SARA-participating institutions through a robust data collection and reporting process as part of the state oversight and compliance process. To learn more about the process for the annual data reporting, colleges and universities can reference the NC-SARA Data Reporting Handbook and other resources for data reporting on the NC-SARA website.
Read an executive summary of the data report and access full interactive data dashboards here.
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About The National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA): 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. Member 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. https://nc-sara.org/