Growth of Distance Learning: Want to Become an Online Student?

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Rising Enrollment Numbers

Are you interested in pursuing a college education from the comfort of your own home? If so, then you are not alone. A new survey conducted by the Department of Education and released by the National Center for Education Statistics has found that enrollment in online degree programs is rising dramatically each year. The survey results showed that 12.2 million students were enrolled in online courses during 2007. What’s more, the Department of Education expects that number will rise to 18 million by the year 2012.

These statistics are echoed in registration numbers at universities across the country. Northern Virginia Community College has seen a 10 percent increase in its online enrollment in the last year. Excelsior College, which claims to be one of the first “virtual” universities, has also seen a dramatic rise in online attendance—more than 23 percent since last Spring. However, this increase is not quite as dramatic as the one seen at Lower Columbia College, located in Washington State. This institution saw its online enrollment shoot up 216 percent since last summer.

Reasons for the Growth

So why is it so popular to earn a college degree online? Online enrollment may be growing because more colleges are offering this option to their students. After starting as a niche market, the opportunities for online learning have exploded. The Department of Education found that 61 percent of postsecondary institutions reported offering online classes to their students in 2007.

Distance learning seems to be most popular at public universities. Nearly 97 percent of two-year public institutions surveyed by the Department of Education reported offering some type of distance education, and the vast majority of that was comprised of online classes. Four-year public universities are also jumping on the Internet bandwagon—over 89 percent of these institutions now offer distance education courses.

The Economy

The troubled economy may also be playing a role in the growing popularity for those who desire to earn a degree online. With unemployment rates rising, many adults may not feel comfortable giving up their job to go back to school full-time. The relatively low-cost of online programs may also be attractive to those seeking to advance their skills without incurring huge loans. Not to mention that many job-seekers may be attending online college courses to make their resumes more attractive to potential employers.

The relatively high cost of gas may also be prompting more students to look into online coursework. Cable Green, the eLearning Director for the State Board that oversees Lower Columbia College, thinks that gas prices are an important factor fueling the growth in online learning. Green notes that rural students are especially affected by this cost because they typically have to drive long distances to get to school. Saving on gas is just one of the benefits of an online degree, and these benefits may be especially attractive during tough economic times.

Regardless of the cause, it appears that the prospects for online learning are very bright. If enrollment keeps growing as the Department of Education suggests, getting your college degree online may be as common as attending a traditional college or university.