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SCHEV Insights: Historic Trends in Distance Learning

Feb 23, 2021, 09:41 AM

Contact: Laura Osberger
(804) 387-5191 (mobile)

February 24, 2021

For immediate release

RICHMOND —The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) today released a new analysis on historic trends in distance learning.

When most Virginia colleges and universities transitioned to remote learning, either fully or via a hybrid model of instruction, for the fall 2020 semester because of the COVID-19, SCHEV sought to analyze distance learning trends prior to the pandemic using SCHEV’s “Distance Education Trends at Virginia Institutions” report. These data provided a baseline of “face-to-face” (F2F) learning trends from 1995-2019.

Key Takeaways

  • Even before COVID-19, the percentage of F2F students was decreasing across the Commonwealth.
    • Less than half of FTE students in 2019 were F2F with some sectors, institutions and programs experiencing more change than others.
    • The fastest growing mode of instruction is among hybrid students who take a mixture of F2F and distance learning courses. Two thirds of hybrid students take six credits or fewer distance learning courses.
    • institutions are rapidly switching to distance learning (Liberty) while others have been almost 100% F2F since 1995 (VMI, W&M).
  • As decreases in F2F and increases in distance learning continue, closing the digital divide becomes even more important. A previous Insight post on Virginia’s Digital Divide in Education found that one in five Virginia students (K-12 and college) lack either high speed internet or a computer in their home. Governor Northam convened a COVID-19 Education Work Group that addressed this divide through increasing access and making technology and broadband more affordable. On an institutional level, schools can ensure all students have access to the distance learning they need. Virginia State University (VSU) leveraged CARES funds and private donations to provide $500 technology stipends to students so they could buy a computer with technology that worked best for them.
  • It remains to be seen exactly how greatly COVID-19 will affect F2F learning for the 2020-2021 school year.

“It will be interesting to revisit these data a year and even five years from now,” said Elizabeth Spach, a Virginia Management Fellow interning at SCHEV and the Insights author, “when the long-term effects of COVID on distance learning are realized.”

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