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THE RISE OF ONLINE COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES
Take a look anywhere around the US, and you will find compelling evidence of the dire state of our current education system. While there are a variety of reasons for the breakdown and failing of our educational system — lack or poor use of funding, bureaucratic entanglements, and undervalued educators to name a few — the one that seems to stand out most is a lack of clear purpose, on all levels of the education system. Most students do not see the purpose of our educational system as do many teachers; policymakers seem too far removed from the classrooms to make effective or meaningful change.
Shortcomings of the Four Year System
The lack of a clear purpose present in our secondary education system has seemed to trickle slightly into post-secondary educational experiences as well. The idea of doing well in school, going to college, and getting a job has been so imbedded in our society that most people won't ever think twice before spending ten to thirty thousand dollars each year for a four year degree, even if it doesn't guarantee them a job. Granted, even without the guaranteed promise of a job, many four year institutions have an abundance of great opportunities and experience to offer, particularly to those who actively seek out such opportunities.
However, for most college students, they receive their own unique "growing experience," as whichever institution they attend holds their hands while they look at possible career choices and interests. Perhaps through extension of their attitudes regarding their secondary education experience, many students attend college with a lack of a clear purpose. If they were forced through K-12 without much of a justification as to why they were there (beyond the promise of attending a good college), why would they then question the purpose of college, the fruit of all their toilsome and monotonous secondary education?
After years of going through the motions of the garbled and cryptic bureaucratic mess that is the American public education system, many students entered college with a similar set of expectations. And with so many universities keeping a large focus and vision on academia, graduates are often left with an archaic depth of knowledge which they then must bridge to meet current job market needs. At a certain point, one has to question whether all this time and money is worth it.
How Change Can Occur Through Online Education
Online education, on the other hand, offers specific skills, knowledge, and experience to reach a particular industry or career path. It is catered to self-starters and do-it-yourself individuals who have a clear goal in mind and don't need to be babied in the process of getting a degree. In essence, they broaden the state of education by shifting away from academia to more real-world applications and by simply having a clear purpose.
While higher education online shares similar costs in tuition to a four year university, many people save thousands of dollars a year because they can attend classes from home and do not have to pay for room, board, and commuting, which can really add up for universities in the center of a metropolitan area. Online education also benefits those with inflexible work or home schedules, but most importantly, it gives education a decisive and utilitarian purpose.
Online Education Numbers
Online education is on the rise. According to a report by Sloan Consortium published in 2010, there was a twenty-one percent growth rate for online enrollments while only a two percent growth rate in the overall higher education student population. About two-thirds of for-profit institutions claim online learning is critical to their long term strategy, and three-quarters of education institutions report that the recession has increased demand for online courses and programs. According to a study from the National Center for Education Statistics in 2006-07, thirty-two percent of all 2-year and 4-year institutions reportedly offered college-level degree or certificate programs designed to be completed totally through distance, online education.
With nearly thirty percent of higher education students now taking at least one course online, more students are starting to see the benefits of online education. Some take a variety of online and face-to-face courses during their higher education experience, perhaps taking online course over the summer to get those extra credit hours. Others who can't afford an intensive four year educational experience utilize the flexibility of online programs to take courses as they have money for it.
As online programs and institutions gain more credibility, enrollment will be expected to increase. Many steps have already been taken to level the playing field for online education. In 2006, the Higher Education Reconciliation Act (HERA) ended the 50-percent rule, which had previously denied online students equal access to certain federal loans. With increases in both funding and status, it is only a matter of time until online education becomes an established norm, hopefully for the betterment of education as a whole.