NCES Study Shows Growth in Online Enrollments

A survey by the National Center for Education Statistics confirms that online learning is gaining ground in public school districts across the United States.

Conducted in the 2010-2011 academic year, the survey found a significant increase in enrollments for online courses, particularly in high schools.

The report concerned four questions:

“Whether any of the elementary and secondary students regularly enrolled in the district were enrolled in distance education courses;

The number of enrollments (which may include duplicated counts of students) in distance education courses of students regularly enrolled in the district, by instructional level of the enrollments;

Whether the district could provide an unduplicated count1 of the number of students enrolled in distance education courses;

Whether the district delivered any distance education courses to students not regularly enrolled in the District.”

The findings, released in November, include the following:

  •  “Fifty-five percent of public school districts reported having students enrolled in distance education courses, with 96 percent having students enrolled at the high school level; 19 percent at the middle or junior high school level; 6 percent at the elementary school level, and 4 percent in combined or ungraded schools.
  • Districts reported an estimated 1,816,400 student enrollments in distance education courses for the 2009-2010 academic year. Seventy-four percent of the distance education enrollments were in high schools, 9 percent were in middle or junior high schools, and 4 percent were in elementary schools.
  • Seventy-nine percent of districts with students enrolled in distance education courses reported enrollments of 100 or fewer students, with 25 percent reporting 1 to 10 enrollments; 27 percent reporting 11 to 30 enrollments, and 27 percent reporting 31 to 100 enrollments.
  • Eighty-seven percent of districts reported tracking all distance education courses that students completed with a passing grade, 79 percent reported tracking all distance education courses that students completed with a failing grade, and 65 percent reported tracking all distance education courses where students withdrew prior to completing the course.
  • Ninety-eight percent of districts reported monitoring student progress in distance education courses using a final grade report. Districts also reported monitoring student progress by completion and submission of assignments (80 percent), interim course grades (75 percent), attendance reports (70 percent), log-on activity (56 percent), and time spent online (49 percent).
  • Twelve percent of districts reported having written policies specifying that a student cannot enroll in another distance education course when a distance education course was not successfully completed, while 6 percent of districts reported having policies specifying that a student must wait a specified time before enrolling in another distance education course .
  •  Twenty-two percent of districts with students enrolled in distance education courses reported that students enrolled in regular high school programs could take a full course load in an academic term using only distance education courses, while 12 percent reported that students could fulfill all high school graduation requirements using only distance education courses.
  • Fifty percent of districts reported that a postsecondary institution in the United States delivered distance education courses in which students in their district were enrolled. Other reported entities delivering distance education included independent vendors in the United States (47 percent) and a state virtual school in their state4 (33 percent). Seventy-five percent of districts reported that all distance education courses were developed by entities other than their district.
  • Districts reported that the types of distance education courses in which students enrolled were credit recovery5 (62 percent); dual enrollment6 (47 percent); Advanced Placement (29 percent); career and technical education (27 percent); and other types of academic courses (65 percent).
  • The majority of districts reported that providing courses not otherwise available at the school (64 percent) and providing opportunities for students to recover course credits from classes missed or failed (57 percent) were very important reasons for having distance education courses in their district. Reasons for having distance education that districts reported as not important included addressing school space limitations (82 percent), and generating more district revenues (82 percent).
  • Fifty-nine percent of districts reported having students enrolled in courses that used the Internet with asynchronous (not simultaneous) instruction to a large extent, with an additional 27 percent reporting having students enrolled in courses that used this technology to a small or moderate extent. This makes the Internet with asynchronous instruction the most widely used technology for the instructional delivery of distance education courses. In contrast, more than half of the districts indicated not using each of the other technologies at all to deliver distance education courses, with 73 percent reporting not using one-way prerecorded video, 65 percent not using computer-based technologies other than the Internet, 59 percent not using two-way interactive video, and 52 percent not using the Internet with synchronous (simultaneous) instruction.
  • The technology most frequently cited by districts as the primary mode of instructional delivery for the greatest number of distance education courses was the Internet using asynchronous instruction (63 percent).
  • Ninety percent of districts with distance education enrollments reported having students enrolled in distance education courses delivered over the Internet. Among those districts, 92 percent reported that students accessed internet-delivered courses at school, 78 percent reported that students accessed these courses at home, and 15 percent reported that students accessed these courses at some other location (e.g., public library or community center).
  • About three-quarters (74 percent) of the districts with distance education enrollments in 2009–10 indicated that they planned to expand the number of distance education courses offered in the next 3 years. Fourteen percent of the districts reported that they delivered distance education courses to students not regularly enrolled in the district (e.g., students from other districts, private school students, or homeschooled students).”
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