FARGO - North Dakota University System students are overwhelmingly seeking a degree and most get the vast majority of their instruction in a traditional classroom.

Almost three-quarters of undergraduate students in the state's 11 campuses are seeking a degree, and 86 percent of those students are enrolled in courses delivered face-to-face in the classroom, according to a report released Wednesday, Feb. 14.

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The report, released by the university system, said distance education is most popular among students at two-year community colleges, most of whom presumably are enrolled in continuing education courses. Although these non-degree-seeking students account for 13 percent of the university system's student population, 80 percent exclusively take distance learning courses.

Chancellor Mark Hagerott said the findings underscore the importance of NDUS being able to serve both students using traditional and online instruction.

"Students today grew up connected to a digital world, so feel comfortable in that realm. However, a majority of our students still prefer to attend class with their peers," Hagerott said in a statement.

"What this means for our university system is that we will continue to focus on providing opportunities for student success in the traditional classroom even as we look to see if there's room to increase an online presence," he added.

Gov. Doug Burgum has been an advocate of greater use of online instruction as part of a broader effort to ensure the system is responsive to the evolving needs of students and employers.

If North Dakota's colleges and universities fail to adapt, including exploiting new educational technologies, they risk losing out to more nimble rivals, Burgum has said. The governor's recently formed task force on higher education will meet Wednesday, Feb. 21, near the campus of North Dakota State University.

NDUS serves 47,236 students, including more than 40,500 undergraduates. Forty-seven percent of all students are enrolled in at least one course delivered via distance education technologies and carry an average of 5.5 credits, compared to 12.5 course credits for those enrolled traditionally.

More than half of the students - 53.3 percent - exclusively take traditional courses, while about a quarter, 25.8 percent, are exclusively enrolled in distance education courses and 20.9 percent carry a mix.

Among students only taking online courses, a majority lived near the school offering the classes. Most online-only students taking classes at North Dakota State University, for instance, are from Cass County, while most taking online-only courses from Bismarck State College reside in Burleigh and Morton counties.