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Has Online Education Reached A Plateau?

Online college courses are more popular than ever, with enrollment reaching a record high in 2006, according to a report released by the Sloan Consortium. The report, entitled "Making the Grade: Online Education in the United States, 2006" gives the results of a recent study based on responses from more than 2,200 colleges and universities across the U.S. . You can read the full text of the report at www.sloan-c.org/publications/survey/index.asp.

In recent years online enrollment grew at a much faster rate than the general college student body. But last year's Sloan report showed a lower percentage rate of growth, prompting speculation that growth in online courses has started to level off.

Those concerns were proven groundless with the release of this year's report, which shows no indication of a plateau in the growth of online enrollments. More than 3.2 million students took at least one online course in the 2005-2006 school year. This record enrollment is a whopping increase of over 800,000 more than the 2.3 million online students the year before.

The report brings some other interesting facts to light:

- Online students are generally older than the more traditional student, and are often working adults with family responsibilities.

- The majority of online students are undergraduates, although the proportion of online graduate students is a bit higher in comparison to the overall higher education population.

- More than 96 percent of the very largest institutions with 15,000 or more total enrollment offer online courses. This level of enrollment is more than twice the rate of the smallest institutions.

- About 2/3 of the very largest schools have fully online programs versus about 1/6 of the smallest institutions.

- 62 percent of chief academic officers believe that the quality of online instruction is equal to or superior to that of face-to-face learning.

- While a majority of chief academic officers believe online courses are high quality, only 4.6 % of chief academic officers thought there are no significant barriers to widespread adoption of online learning.

- 2/3 of academic leaders believe a lack of discipline on the part of online students is a critical barrier to online learning.

- Barriers to online learning include faculty issues, with the acceptance of online learning and the need for greater time and effort required for teaching online as important barriers. On the other hand neither a perceived lack of demand on the part of potential students nor the acceptance of an online degree by potential employers was seen as a critical barrier.

With a record online enrollment growth on a numeric and percentage basis, any fears that online enrollment levels are leveling off can be laid to rest. Each year, ever increasing numbers of students are finding that online courses are an integral part of their learning experience. And while the rate of increase is sure to eventually slow at some point, it appears that online education is here to stay.


About the Author: Jesse Whitehead earned his B.S degree with honors from a prominent online university in 2005. For more information on how online college classes can help you earn your degree click here.




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