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Article: Future of Online Education

According to the Sloan Consortium, more than 34 percent of all American colleges offered online degree programs in 2003.

Have you thought about pursuing a college education online? Have you hesitated because you doubted that many programs were available, or that many students were taking advantage of them? If so, you should take heart in further Sloan Consortium statistics. Almost 50 percent of public colleges offered online degree programs in 2003. What's more, in 2002, 1.6 million students took online courses. More students are enrolled in a greater number of online programs than ever before--and these numbers are projected to increase.

Humble Beginnings:

Matters were much different only a few years ago. In 1998, according to the New York State Department of Education, only 8 percent of universities offered some form of distance education degree. Since that percentage includes forms of distance education such as correspondence and video-based technologies, the online percentage was even smaller. The numbers of students taking online courses were small, too. For instance, as reported by Jan Jarvis, one major Texas university had fewer than 100 students enrolled in online courses in 1998.

Degree offerings were also limited in 1998. At that time, most programs were geared towards students wanting to complete graduate and professional degrees in management, health professions, engineering and education.

Everybody Learns Online:

Online education has changed much in recent years. Not only do almost 50 percent of public colleges now offer online degrees, but, the Sloan Consortium shows, almost 72 percent of all colleges now offer online courses of some form. And far more students are taking advantage of online education than ever before. The university in Texas, for example, had about 2000 students taking online courses in 2002.

Though many online degrees and classes are still intended for working professionals, many schools now offer a broad range of programs similar to that offered by traditional campus-based colleges. For instance, some online schools let you pursue degrees in such disciplines as psychology, math, liberal arts, or criminal justice.

Who are Your Classmates?

In 1998 the vast majority of online students were working professionals. Usually older than the traditional 18-24 demographic, they were working to complete a professional degree or earn a certification.

Today you might find that while most of your online classmates still belong to the older demographic, there are now students in the 18-24 age range taking online courses. Some of these students want to complete a certification. Others are in a traditional, campus-based degree program. They take online courses because of conflicts with part-time jobs or other responsibilities.

Your online classmates might also be based in other countries. As the Internet access becomes common around the world, more students are enrolling in online schools whose physical campuses are in a different country.

Online Education's Bright Future:

According to researcher Diane Harley, there will be 2 million more students enrolled in colleges across the United States in 2010 than in 2000. In an era of budget cuts, it's unlikely that physical college campuses can be expanded to accommodate so many new students. Even as schools become more crowded, however, Internet access will become nearly universal. And a significant percentage of students will have access to technology like broadband and wireless, which will make online education even more convenient. The two trends--more students, and better technology--should make for increased availability of online education. In fact, Scott Howell suggests that up to fifty percent of traditional campus programs may be exclusively or alternately available online within a few years.

Consider Online:

If you're looking for a college education, there's a good chance you can find the program you need online right now. And if you wait for a few years, you may only find your program online.

-David Cleary


. Harley, Diane, "Investing in Educational Technologies: The Challenge of Reconciling Institutional Strategies, Faculty Goals, and Student Expectations," UC Berkeley Center for Studies in Higher Education, 2002,

. Howell, Scott, et al, "Thirty-two Trends Affecting Distance Education: An Informed Foundation for Strategic Planning," Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, Volume VI, Number III, Fall 2003,

. Jarvis, Jan, "Degree seekers turn to cyberspace," Arlington Star-Telegram, 10/30/2002.

. New York State Education Department, "Trends In Virtual Education In The United States,"

. Sloan Consortium, "Sizing the Opportunity: The Quality and Extent of Online Education in the United States, 2002 and 2003",