Online education has taken the U.S. by storm in the last 15 years, most recently with public universities branching out into the world of online degrees to compete with the many private institutions that previously dominated the industry. Today, you're far more likely than before to see online courses and degree programs offered by your neighborhood community college as well as your state's flagship university. Part of the reason for this growth in online education programs is the demand for higher education accessibility and convenience.
Private and public universities are acknowledging the changing demographics of college students. The majority of undergraduate students these days are nontraditional, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Nontraditional students are those that exhibit one or more of the following characteristics: older than the typical 18-24 college crowd, attend college part-time, are not supported by their parents, work a full-time job, have children, or are single parents. Online degrees are ideal for nontraditional students who require a higher level of flexibility in their courses due to their work and family responsibilities.
Online degrees are also ideal for military personnel, stay-at-home parents, those who travel frequently, students with disabilities that make it difficult to attend college on campus, and those who are over an hour away from a college campus and want to avoid a cumbersome commute. Even people who live in a college town can benefit from exploring online programs, as their local college may not offer the type of program they're interested in, and it may be widely available online. Those with unpredictable work schedules, like police officers and nurses, are also a good fit for online education, since alternating between day and night shifts makes scheduling rigid campus-based courses nearly impossible, even for colleges that offer courses on nights and weekends.
Online programs are available to meet nearly every student need. Those whose primary need is flexibility can take advantage of asynchronous programs, which allow students to log in and watch lectures at any time of the day or night that works with their schedule. Students who want more structure and interaction with their faculty and classmates can choose synchronous programs, which require students to log in at the same days and times each week. Synchronous programs often involve live streaming and may provide more options for participating in class in real-time. A third option for students who choose online programs at colleges nearby is hybrid programs, which allow students to attend part of their program online and part in the classroom.
If you are an independent learner who is self-disciplined and able to devote at least 10 hours a week to their studies, online programs are a good choice for you. Online students must also be comfortable using computers, willing to participate in online discussions, and be proactive in asking for help when they need it.