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Latest NC-SARA Report Shows Dramatic Rise in Exclusively Distance Education Enrollment

Updated by on Tue, 10/19/2021 - 15:51
Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                           CONTACT
October 20, 2021                                                                       

Latest NC-SARA Report Shows Dramatic Rise in Exclusively Distance                                                           Education Enrollment
Fall 2020 data and institutional survey results signal possible permanent                                       shift in learning modality for some institutions

BOULDER, CO – The National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA) today released its 6th annual data report and dataset, which confirms 5.8 million students nationwide were enrolled exclusively in distance education at 2,201 SARA participating institutions in Fall 2020 – a 93% increase over Fall 2019 enrollment.

The report also showed the majority (66.5%) of total exclusively distance education enrollments were at public institutions, followed by private non-profit institutions (23.4%) and private for-profit institutions (10.1%). Overall, the number of exclusively distance education enrollments at public institutions in Fall 2020 increased by 144% compared to Fall 2019. Dive deeper into the data using NC-SARA’s new interactive data dashboards here.

NC-SARA President and CEO Dr. Lori Williams said, “In a lot of ways, NC-SARA’s latest data report and dataset aligns with our expectations that distance education enrollment would skyrocket during the pandemic. But it also sheds light on the ways higher education may continue to evolve and change in months and years after the COVID-19 pandemic, and we have signals for possible long-term modality shifts that may permanently alter the pursuit of postsecondary education.”

Key findings from the data report include:

  • The number of institutions participating in SARA has continued to increase, with 113 more institutions reporting in 2020 than in 2019. As of October 2021, 2,300 institutions in 49 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands participate in SARA.
  • Public institutions had the largest increase in postsecondary exclusively distance education enrollment in Fall 2020, increasing by 144% over 2019, followed by tribal institutions (up 107%), private non-profit institutions (up 47%), and private for-profit institutions (up 17%).
  • Most students (67.7%) enrolled exclusively in distance education in their own state, compared to 32.4% of students who were enrolled in out-of-state distance education courses.

Read an executive summary of the report and access interactive data dashboards here.

For the third year in a row, NC-SARA also released data on out-of-state learning placements (OOSLP), which provides insight into in-person experiences students engage in across state lines, such as clinical hours for nursing, practice teaching hours for pre-service teachers, internships, etc. The number of SARA OOSLP for calendar year 2020 was 261,275, a decrease of 3.9% from 271,784 reported in 2019.

According to the available data, the greatest number of learning placements was in healthcare-related programs (56.5%), followed by education (10.3%) and business (5.2%). The remaining 28% of OOSLPs were in a variety of fields, such as engineering and social sciences.

Additionally, NC-SARA released findings from a voluntary survey of SARA-participating institutions, which confirmed 85% of respondents reported moving courses to emergency remote learning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly two-thirds (59%) of respondents indicated they plan to continue offering some or all of their emergency remote learning offerings via distance education after the pandemic is over.

Williams said, “This survey indicates a large swath of colleges and universities plan to continue offering online learning for the foreseeable future, indicating distance education may be a much more popular and prevalent modality from now on. When it comes to affordability and access, this could be a very positive development to help more students pursue postsecondary education – but maintaining a strong focus on quality must also be a top priority for states, institutions, and other higher education leaders.” 

To learn more about NC-SARA and the 6th annual data report, 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.