As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, new research from the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA) found that distance education enrollment increased 93 percent over Fall 2019 enrollments.
While those findings likely come as no surprise, NC-SARA also found that more than half of higher education institutions plan to continue offering some or all of their emergency remote learning offerings via distance education after the pandemic is over.
“As we expected, distance education enrollments roughly doubled as institutions turned to emergency remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic last fall,” NC-SARA President and CEO Dr. Lori Williams said. “However, we also learned, based on surveying SARA-participating institutions, that a large swath of colleges and universities plan to continue offering online programs for the foreseeable future, indicating distance education may be a much more popular and prevalent modality from now on.”
According to the data, 5,825,723 were enrolled in distance learning in the Fall of 2020, compared to 3,016,944 in the Fall of 2019. The increase in distance learning enrollment was not seen equally across higher education, rather public non-profit institutions had the largest increase in postsecondary distance education enrollments in 2020, increasing by 144 percent over 2019, followed by tribal institutions (up 107 percent), private non-profit institutions (up 47 percent), and private for-profit institutions (up 17 percent).
The vast majority of higher education institutions – 85 percent – said they moved classes online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. NC-SARA did note that for the 15 percent of respondents that did not move classes online, the majority were small private non-profit institutions or institutions that already offered their programs in this format.
While the COVID-19 pandemic may have been the impetus for expanding remote learning opportunities, additional distance learning offerings are here to stay for many schools. Nearly two-thirds of respondents (59 percent) said they plan to continue offering some or all of their emergency remote learning offerings via distance education after the pandemic is over.
These initial findings were released as part of a “sneak peek” at NC-SARA’s full report. The full report will be released at the end of next month and will include new interactive dashboards to explore the data in more depth.