In a study released Friday, the Department of Education revealed enrollment in college-level distance courses - classes taught either online or remotely through audio or video feeds - jumped from 1.3 million to 2.9 million between 1997-98 and 2000-01.
John Bailey, director of educational technology for the Education Department, prepared the report along with National Center for Education Statistics.
Distance learning won't replace traditional classrooms, he said, but there will come a time when "essentially every institution is going to offer some sort of distance learning or e-learning."
The survey was conducted in the spring of 2002, with questionnaires mailed to approximately 1,600 degree-granting schools across the country. About 94 percent responded, with the data weighted to take into account schools that didn't reply.
The study found that 90 percent of public, two-year schools and 89 percent of public four-year colleges and technical training schools already offer some form of distance learning.
Distance learning is available at 40 percent of the country's private four-year colleges and training schools.
Overall, the report found that the nation's colleges and universities provided Americans with access to 118,100 higher education distance education courses in 2000-01 compared to the 47,500 classes available in 1997-98.
The survey said 90 percent of the distance learning that took place in 2000-01 was asynchronous - meaning that students completed on their own time assignments posted on the Internet by instructors.
By Steve Giegerich