What we now call “distance education” began long before computers linked students and teachers. From the 1890s on, a wide range of private companies, public universities, and enterprising individuals sold instruction by mail. State and federal regulations were so meager before the 1930s that even the sham schools thrived. The popularity of this form of education diminished after 1930, but before then more students enrolled annually in correspondence courses than entered colleges and universities. This entry looks at the history of correspondence schools: why students enrolled, what schools offered, how standards were developed, and why this educational option declined.

Student Motivations

Acquiring a better job was the reason why most people took a correspondence course. They wanted to learn the specific skills necessary for a promotion or ...

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