It’s not your imagination. Online universities have been growing in popularity for years now. A recent survey published by the Sloan Consortium found that almost 3.5 million students were enrolled in at least one online class during the fall 2006 semester, which is nearly a 10 percent increase over the fall 2005 figures. What’s more, the growth rate for online enrollments drastically outpaced the 1.5% growth of the overall higher education population. Perhaps most telling, almost 20% of all higher education students in the U.S. were enrolled in at least one online course in the fall of 2006. With one-fifth of the national student body exploring distance-learning options, it’s no surprise that online online universities are feeling the effect and seeing enrollment increases.
There are several reasons for the growing popularity of online colleges. First, there’s the fact that it’s possible to save a little money by going to school at home. Because you don’t have to move across the state (or country) to attend school, you won’t have to pay any relocation costs or come up with money for campus housing. Additionally, the online arms of some traditional schools are competitively priced: the University of Illinois-Chicago charges $635 per credit hour for its online degree programs, compared with the $860 an hour that out-of-state residents could wind up paying for pursuing a degree at the physical campus.
Another reason online universities are getting so popular is the convenience of their set-up and the flexibility it offers. Traditional universities dictate everything from where you’ll live to when you can attend class, but online universities cater to each student’s specific time constraints and learning habits. While you will still have due dates for your work (it is still a school, after all), it will be completely up to you to determine when to log in and download coursework, when to read and write papers, and how to structure your day to get the most from your material. Students have been responding positively in greater numbers to the methodology and independence of online universities, boosting their popularity.
Accreditation shouldn’t be overlooked, either. Now that more and more online universities are becoming accredited by regional or national agencies, it’s easier for students to see that these institutions are just as academically valid as more traditional schools. Once it became clear that online education is a viable and accredited alternative, the enrollments began to rise as students realized that they could get a rigorous education from the convenience of their own home.