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The Big South Conference contains “online powerhouse” Liberty University.  If Liberty University were not included in these numbers the percentage for the conference would be 6.6% instead of 63.9%.  Eighty-three percent of Liberty University’s students are enrolled exclusively in distance education.

Distance education as a percentage of all enrollments places the “Powerhouse Conferences” of the ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC outside of the top 30. 

When evaluating the conferences by total enrollment of students in exclusively online courses the powerhouse conferences all move into the top 15 with the Pac-12 leading the way with 30,417 enrollments.  In the fall 2014 IPEDS reporting period Arizona State University (ASU) reported all five campus as being affiliated with the Pac-12 Conference, where all other institutions only reported conference affiliation to the main campus.  When the additional campuses from ASU are removed this drops the Pac-12’s distance education enrollments to 17,563, behind the SEC and the Big 10.

The following chart reflects the top 15 conferences by students enrolled exclusively in distance education courses.

Copyright 2014 - 2018 The Center for Distance Education Research. All rights reserved.


IPEDS – Fall 2014 DE Enrollments by Football Athletic Conferences

This report utilizes data from the National Center for Educational Statistics' Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) for fall 2014.  IPEDS began to require the reporting of distance education (DE) enrollment from participating institutions in the fall of 2012. This report is only evaluating students who were enrolled “exclusively in distance education” as defined by IPEDS and reported by higher education institutions for the fall 2014.  During the data collection periods IPEDS also collects athletic conference information from each institution by sports; such as football, baseball, and basketball.  This report specifically evaluates institutions with identified conferences for football for the fall of 2014.   Some conferences only contained one institution and those have been removed from this report leaving a total of 84 conferences representing 749 institutions.

The first graphic ranks conferences based on the percentage of all students (undergraduate, graduate and certificate) which were enrolled exclusively in distance education for the fall 2014 reporting period.

The purpose of this report was to reflect on distance education enrollments in the United States from a different view than the typical public versus private for-profit angle.  While being a football conference is just one description of colleges and universities this report does reflect that the power conferences are participating in fully online distance education programs as much as the non-powerhouse conferences.


IPEDS Definitions

  • Distance education course - A course in which the instructional content is delivered exclusively via distance education.  Requirements for coming to campus for orientation, testing, or academic support services do not exclude a course from being classified as distance education. 
  • Distance education - Education that uses one or more technologies to deliver instruction to students who are separated from the instructor and to support regular and substantive interaction between the students and the instructor synchronously or asynchronously.
  • Technologies used for instruction may include the following: Internet; one-way and two-way transmissions through open broadcasts, closed circuit, cable, microwave, broadband lines, fiber optics, satellite or wireless communication devices; audio conferencing; and video cassette, DVDs, and CD-ROMs, if the cassette, DVDs, and CD-ROMs are used in a course in conjunction with the technologies listed above.

The top 15 institutions associated to football conferences reflects a diverse cross section across all conferences and locations in the United States.  As discussed earlier, Liberty University has the largest number of students enrolled exclusively in online courses and is then followed by ASU’s Skysong campus.