Online class enrollment grows by 35 percent

By Jonathan Wroble

Throughout the nation, more and more college students are pursuing the type of education where a broadbrand connection is more important than a pencil and paper. At the University, this is evidenced in the Global Campus Initiative and similar programs that contribute to a regional trend.

According to “Making the Grade,” a report published by the Sloan Consortium, enrollment in online college courses grew by 35 percent in the Midwest between fall 2004 and fall 2005. This number matches the countrywide growth rate, which suggests a national trend towards online education among college students.

“This is the largest growth we’ve yet seen,” said Jeff Seaman, chief information officer and survey director for the Sloan Consortium. “We keep expecting to see some slowing of the growth … (but) we haven’t.”

Seaman, who co-authored the report, distributed a survey to over 2,200 institutions in order to compile data. This field included 706 Midwestern schools, 573 of which responded.

“Every year we ask schools whether they think online education will grow,” Seaman said. “Every year they say it’s going to grow substantially, and it does.”

Nationwide, this growth translates into 3.2 million students who enrolled in an online course in fall 2005 – representing almost 17 percent of all higher education students. In the Midwest, 460,000 students from 11 states took an online course in the same academic semester.

One Midwestern program is the University’s Engineering and Computer Science Online program, originally initiated in 1998. Since then, it has enrolled students from more than 20 countries, and it currently draws more than 550 students per year.

“Our online program is geared toward those in the work place looking to continue their education beyond their bachelor’s degree,” said Laura Miller, University director of engineering online programs. “Online students view lectures at their own convenience over the Internet as they work to balance family, career and continuing education.”

Students in the program can pursue one of two master’s degrees or one of 10 graduate certificates. Their homework, projects and exams are exactly the same as those of their on-campus counterparts.

“Seeing the professor lecturing, following the same homework and exam schedule and interacting with on-campus students assures our online students that the course they are taking is of no less quality than the on-campus course,” Miller said.

Similar to this is the Web-based Information Science Education program, which is associated with the University’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science. Started four years ago, it recently won the Sloan Consortium’s 2006 Effective Practice Award.

“There’s definite interest (in this program),” said Linda Smith, co-founder of program. “The key is getting students access to courses that are interesting to them that their university may not offer.”

To do this, the program offers courses at 14 affiliated universities. For the upcoming summer term, it has already enrolled 55 students in 31 courses at 10 different schools.

Besides having highly-rated engineering and library schools, another aspect of the University predicts its strong showing in online education.