distance ed

Distance-delivered courses are mainstream: 40% of USHE students enroll in at least one distance-delivered course

40% of the 175,509 students enrolled at USHE institutions during the 2016-17 academic year take at least one distance-delivered course (courses in which 80% or more of the course is taught at a distance), significantly higher than the national average of 28%. Online courses are by far the most popular distance-delivered courses, and are the fastest growing.

Students Enrolled in Distance Education (by Type of Delivery)

USHE institutions offer 84 certificate and degree programs entirely online

However, despite availability of online courses and degrees, students prefer using online courses to augment a traditional campus schedule.

  • 85% of students who enroll in online courses take a majority of their courses on campus;
  • Less than 3% of full-time students are enrolled totally online (who are mostly enrolled part-time and over 25 years old).

Is distance-delivered education cheaper?

A 2017 study by the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education, specifically its Cooperative on Education Technology (WCET), indicates distance education costs are largely the same as the traditional face-to-face courses. The survey cites 9 primary factors that uniquely affect costs for distance-delivered courses:

  • Faculty development
  • Technologies
  • Design course specifications
  • Instructional design
  • Learning materials
  • Student identity verification
  • Assessments
  • Accessibility
  • Accreditation/state authorization

The survey reports “Many of the respondents were quite adamant in asserting that these additional services could only cost more since many of them are not needed in the traditional classroom.”


Where are online courses most-widely available?

Private providers of distance-delivered college courses have steadily increased in the past decade. However, public institutions have rapidly increased their online offerings, now enrolling 67% of U.S. students who take distance-delivered courses. Some argue this growth is the result of rising competition in the online sector of postsecondary education. However, the reality for public institutions is that online courses are a necessity accommodate continuing student growth.

In Utah, USHE has added over 50,000 students since 2000, the equivalent number of students at three institutions (Utah State University, Southern Utah University, and Dixie State University). Institutions have to be innovative in their instructional deliveries to manage this growth. Such growth will continue, by 2024 there will be:

  • 350,000 more working Utahns
  • 64,000 more K-12 students
  • 52,000 more USHE students

For the past decade the available square footage of student-used space per student has decreased because facilities for students have not kept pace with student enrollment growth. Online courses have helped alleviate a major portion of that student growth.