In April 2013, the Instructional Technology Council (ITC) released it’s 2012 Distance Education Survey, which highlighted numerous positives for distance learning. While the survey does highlight a slight decrease from previous years, distance learners still remain at the top of overall enrollment.
The survey tracked data from fall 2011 to fall 2012 and found that distance learning enrollment grew by 6.52 percent, though it is down from the previous high of 22 percent from fall 2008 to fall 2009. Overall total enrollment at institutions declined by an average of 2.64, firmly highlighting the popularity that online education continues to enjoy. Eighteen percent of respondents, down from 37 percent in 2010, cited the economic downturn as a reason for their choice to enroll in a distance education program.
In an attempt to generate revenue for technical support, licensing and student services cost, 51 percent of responding institutions in the ITC Survey said they charge an additional per-credit fee for distance learners. This represents a 12 percent growth from 2011 figures and has students paying on average $12 per credit and $30 per course. The fees are aimed at reducing the burden on smaller universities and community colleges with the hope that distance education programs can eventually become self-sustaining.
With this continued growth, however, challenges remain. Fewer respondents in the ITC survey felt confident that their institution is in compliance with sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Section 508 specifically deals with requiring federal agencies and those that receive federal funding to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. In 2008, 73 percent agreed that they were either “completely or mostly compliant.” That number has since dropped to 52 percent in 2012.
Many institutions continue to struggle to find the right blend that meets the needs of their students and budgeting responsibilities, whether in the form of solely online education, hybrid formats or web-assisted programs. With the recent explosion of MOOCs progressively becoming a factor in how institutions are competing, the world of online education will continue to grow and evolve into a mechanism that benefits both educators and those they serve.