Down Economy Drives Online Learning: Enrollment Jumped 17 Percent in 2009

Feb 11, 2010 10:40am

ABC News on Campus reporter Toby Phillips blogs:    When the economy turns sour, historically people tend to look towards higher education as a tool to improve their finances, or to guard against layoffs. This time around, it's online education that has seen the largest increase in demand.
Anne-Marie Norgren (seen at right), 21, a student at Arizona State University, says she spent the past few weeks hiking mountains and making homemade pizza with her friends in Lima, Peru. Meanwhile, she's a full-time mathematics student at Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ. 
According to a study published in January, there was a 17 percent increase in online class enrollment last year among people enrolled in brick and mortar colleges and universities.  
"[Online classes] have allowed me to spend more time outside of the classroom so that I can do other things to augment my university education," Norgren told ABC News On Campus. Students like her all across the country are finding virtual classes at their home institution a viable and valuable option. Around 4.6 million students  took online courses last year, which is about 25 percent of college students, according to the "Learning on Demand" study released by the Sloan Consortium, an organization that aims to integrate online learning into mainstream higher-education.   The study was funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.  Researchers were from the Babson Survey Research group at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass.
Professor I. Elaine Allen, the research director of the Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship at Babson College, gave a summary of the research in a YouTube video.  
"Higher education only grew by 1.2 percent," Allen said. "The 17 percent growth rate [of online course enrollment] really is what's driving the growth of higher education."
More than 2,500 colleges and universities were surveyed for the study which found that students may have been compelled to work more and make non-traditional class choices, like virtual ones, because of the economy.
"When we see a downturn in the economy we tend to see people going back to school," she said. "They go back to school because they have been laid off or lost their job; they go back to school to improve their credentials in case they're going to get laid off."
While the economy has led to an increased demand for college courses in general, "the economic impact has been greatest on demand for online courses," the report said. Among the institutions surveyed, 73 percent saw an increase in demand for their existing online courses which the schools said was caused in part by the struggling economy. Sixty-six percent of institutions saw an increase in demand for new online classes and programs.
By enrolling full-time in online classes, Norgren is able to collect financial aid from ASU and continue to travel. She says the freedom to travel the world and still get a degree in mathematics from ASU is invaluable and fairly easy process.
"I work better alone," she said. "I can always get my questions answered if I need to."
Plus, she added, "I'm in Peru!"

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