What Happened After the Great Online Pivot of 2020?

When Covid-19 was officially declared a pandemic in March 2020, campuses were swiftly evacuated and instruction moved online en masse. New preliminary federal data, released in late 2022, charts what has happened in distance-education patterns, both throughout the sector and at individual institutions, through fall 2021.

The share of students who were enrolled only in distance-education classes dropped to 30.4 percent in 2021 from 45.6 percent in 2020, according to a Chronicle analysis of U.S. Department of Education data for close to 3,900 public and private four-year and two-year institutions. But it’s still higher than pre-pandemic numbers: In 2017, the share of students who were enrolled only in distance-learning classes was 15.7 percent.

The share of students who were enrolled only in distance education grew 12.8 percentage points between 2019 and 2021, with tribal colleges and associate-granting institutions among those seeing higher-than-average online-only enrollments.

For more on distance-education enrollment trends in recent years, see below:

Methodology: This analysis looked at four-year and two-year institutions with Carnegie Classifications of doctoral, master’s, baccalaureate, associate or not applicable within the United States. Institutions can be degree-granting or not applicable, which are not in the Carnegie universe (not accredited or non-degree-granting). Institutions were defined as degree-granting if they were eligible to participate in Title IV federal financial-aid programs.

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