Iowa Board of Regents

Distance Education Report Highlights Successful Growth

In February, the Board will receive the 2021-22 distance education report, which outlines the year-to-year changes in distance and online education offerings at Iowa’s Regent universities. 

After huge adjustments to accommodate virtual learning during the COVID-19 Pandemic, Iowa’s public universities have rebalanced their online offerings to better align with student expectations of a residential campus. Even with the necessary scaling back of pandemic-era virtual offerings, online course enrollments continued their pre-pandemic growth trajectory during the 2021-22 academic year.

Though course selections, enrollment and credit hours are down from their 2020-21 highs, each category has shown explosive growth over the last five years. Duplicated student enrollment is up more than 70% from 2017-18, while credit hours taken is up nearly 52% and course selections are up more than 38% over the same time. The total number of for-credit programs offered has actually increased from 197 to 204 since the pandemic, while duplicated enrollment in non-credit courses has jumped from just over 605 thousand to nearly 1.1 million during the same time. 

More than half of all non-credit course registrations are through Iowa State Extension and Outreach Services. These include 4-H youth development, and agriculture and natural resources, and Human Sciences programs. In addition, health professions and clinical services courses at the University of Iowa and courses on business, management, marketing and related services at UNI have been popular.

Data from the Distance Education Report provides vital insights as Iowa's public universities lay out the future of distance and online education in the state. Demand for distance education continues its strong growth track - even with pandemic restrictions lifted - as students choose flexible paths toward graduation that include both online and on-campus courses. In addition, demand for non-credit distance education remains strong in Iowa.  

All three universities added new online programs in 2021-22 as a way to expand offerings and meet workforce needs or fill gaps in the online degree marketplace. In addition, short-term certificates are well-suited for employers looking to upskill or grow their workforce. With continued growth in their distance and online education offerings, Iowa’s public universities meet students where they are to fill critical workforce gaps and help students achieve their higher education goals.

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