Community Colleges and Distance
Instructional Telecomm unications Council
It is no wonder distance education has transformed the way courses are taught at community colleges and universities around the world. Distance learning has expanded educational opportunities for employees who need to enhance their job skills but don't have the time to attend a traditional face-to-face classroom; for mothers who want to earn their college degrees while caring for their children at home; and for students in rural areas, where geography prevents them from traveling to and from campus. International students can also take advantage of the wide variety of online courses offered by colleges and universities in the United States without having to obtain a visa or leave town.
The latest data from the National Center for Educational Statistics (2000) show enrollment in distance learning courses based on new electronic technologies increased by 72% at public two-year colleges from 1995 to 1998, and by 204% at public four-year universities. Public two-year colleges increased their number of different distance learning courses by 99% from 1995 to 1998, while public four-year universities increased their offerings by 104%.
The Instructional Telecommunications Council defines distance education as “the process of extending learning, or delivering instructional resource-sharing opportunities, to locations away from a classroom, building or site, to another classroom, building or site by using video, audio, computer, multimedia communications, or some combination of these with other traditional delivery methods” (Gross, Gross, & Pirkl, 1994). The Department of Education uses a similar definition.
Although community colleges have offered distance learning programs to students for many reasons since the mid-1970s, the successful ones have done so to serve new audiences in their community and extend the traditional open-access mission of the college—to provide affordable access to higher educational opportunities to all students, regardless of their educational, financial, or ethnic background.
Students are demanding distance learning opportunities for many reasons. Most are busy and don't have time to travel to campus to attend traditional face-to-face classes. Those in rural areas live too far from campus or would like to take a course that is not offered at their local college. Many distance learning students have responsibilities at home or are disabled. Others