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Online Degree Options Continue to Grow

Over 1.2 million students were enrolled in online higher education programs at the close of 2005 according to Eduventures, a leading education market research firm. As students across the nation flock to online degree programs, educators and prospective students alike are wondering: Is online education here to stay?

Experts agree that online education is very much on the rise, and it seems to be here for the long run. Eduventure predicts, “By early 2008, around one in ten college students will be enrolled in an online degree program.”

Online All the Time
A large number of schools offer only online classes, and have little or no campus-based component but are formally accredited according to the same system as traditional campus-based colleges and universities. Students can choose from hundreds of accredited degree programs ranging from business to Web design to health sciences and more. New programs apply for accreditation each year, and many non-accredited programs offer their own certification for completed coursework.

Until recently, colleges that offer more than half of their courses online could not receive federal student aid. In March, however, Congress passed a law that dropped this requirement. The new law marks a transition for the fledgling online education industry, and will undoubtedly prompt more students and schools to tap into this growing trend.

Off the Campus and Onto the Web
Many campus-based colleges and universities have questioned the legitimacy of a degree program that does not center on face-to-face learning. Still, a growing number of traditional schools are making the leap from on-campus to online. The number of colleges that offer some sort of distance learning program rose from 62 percent in 1998 to 87 percent in 2004, according to the International Data Corporation. A study funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation reports that 65 percent of universities with in-person graduate programs also offer graduate courses online.

Some employers remain slow to accept online degrees, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. However, a number of high-profile traditional colleges are playing important roles in making the Internet an accepted platform for higher education. Later this year, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will complete its pioneering “OpenCourseWare” project, which makes all MIT course material available on the Internet, free of charge, to anyone in the world.

Getting in Synch with Your Online Education Options
With so many students turning to online degree programs, how do they sort through the many different options available to them? Online degree programs fall into two broad categories: asynchronous learning and synchronous learning.

Publish date: June 11, 2008