To put it simply, the future of online college degrees is very promising. For an overview of just how explosive the growth of online courses has been in recent years, look at this graph:
As you can see, between fall 2002 and fall 2011, online courses more than tripled their enrollment percentage. During that period, that number skyrocketed from less than 10 percent to more than 30 percent, and it increased from year to year without exception.
Even politicians are starting to recognize the potential that online degrees hold. For example, in June 2013, the California State Senate passed a bill establishing a system of grants for state universities that partner with online education companies to create Internet courses.
Now, this astounding educational trend raises a couple of key questions. First, how do college faculty members tend to view Internet education? And second, who can and will benefit the most from this style of learning?
Changing Attitudes: College Professors and Online Degrees
Not long ago, the clear majority of college professors derided Internet learning programs as inferior to the traditional method of learning. However, it now seems that many of those educators were dismissing online courses without really being familiar with them. And as more professors gain online teaching experience, many of their positions on the subject are shifting. Consider the following statistics:
⇨ Jay A. Halfond of The New England Journal of Higher Education points out that one-fifth of all college faculty members currently believe that online classes are at least equal to their in-person counterparts in terms of quality. Plus, people who have taught online are twice as likely to extol the virtues of Internet studies.
⇨ About 40 percent of college faculty members feel that online courses will at some point equal in-class courses in instruction quality, and many of those educators even worry that the prevalence of digital learning could mean far fewer jobs for professors.
⇨ This graph from the Sloan Consortium — a professional society dedicated to advancing online education — lists several of the leading reasons why many college professors enjoy teaching online.
⇨ Tenured faculty members are the most likely to view online education with suspicion. By extension, newer faculty members are more optimistic about Internet teaching, which is another fact that bodes well for the future of online degrees.
A critical challenge for college administrators who believe in online education, then, is to provide professors with all of the support — technical and otherwise — that they need to make their Internet classes successful. Positive initial experiences with online instruction often convert educators with reservations about Internet learning.
People Who Gain the Most from Digital Learning
It’s highly unlikely that Internet degrees will ever completely replace traditional academic degrees. Going forward, many high school graduates will doubtless prefer to spend four or more years as full-time, in-person college students; they’ll want to live in dormitories, make new friends, and study inside brick-and-mortar facilities.
Therefore, the real promise of online degrees is that they’ll make higher education accessible to people who would not otherwise be able to go to college. These individuals will earn their degrees on their own time and at their own pace. In the process, they’ll open up many new professional opportunities for themselves.
For starters, some students simply don’t feel ready to begin college at the age of 18. Instead, such a person might choose to get a job immediately after graduating from high school. He or she could then take online college courses at some other point in his or her life.
What’s more, when young adults have children of their own, it can be extremely difficult for them to attend a four-year institution of higher learning. But when they take part in an online degree program, they can turn on their laptops and study, read, complete assignments, and watch videos of professors’ lectures whenever their babies are sleeping.
Students Lacking Funds
Of course, there’s also the crucial matter of paying for a college education. Martha C. White of Time magazine writes that, in May 2013, the average college student owed $35,200 upon his or her graduation. Compare that sum to the cost of an online college education. For instance, you could obtain a master’s degree in computer science from an accredited online program for less than $25,000, and it’s even possible nowadays to earn a bachelor’s degree in that field for less than $10,000.
The obvious conclusion here is that people who are unsure about how they’ll afford college tuition could profit greatly from enrolling in an Internet program of study. With that in mind, it’s safe to say that an exciting era for online students and teachers is underway.