HACKENSACK, N.J. _ The global reach and flexibility of the Internet is fueling brisk growth in online college classes, and those numbers are expected to grow as the recession encourages numerous workers to continue their education.
“The courses can be accessed from any place, at any time,” said Ken Vehrkens, dean of Anthony J. Petrocelli College of Continuing Studies of Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, N.J. “That type of flexibility really fits into many adult learners’ schedules, balancing full-time employment and family commitments.”
Nationwide, the number of students taking at least one online course jumped by nearly 70 percent between 2002 and 2007, from 1.6 million to 3.9 million, according to a study released in November by the Sloan Consortium, a nonprofit advocacy group for online learning.
Better technology and bigger bandwidth have made the trend possible.
When online classes were introduced in the mid-1990s, educators and students were often frustrated by slow log-on times (remember dial-up?) and static messaging programs.
Now, new software and cheaper, faster computers allow students to chat with one another and a professor in real time, share video and audio clips and conduct online research around-the-clock.
If there is a typical student, she is Jessica Marmolejos of Wayne, N.J. Marmolejos, 32, is a busy single mother of two and administrative assistant who starts her school day after work.
Her office skills have helped her land temporary jobs at companies such as NBC Studios and Morgan Stanley. But when those businesses downsized, she was among the first to be dismissed because she lacked a degree, she said.
So in the evenings at home, she boots up her computer and cracks open a Western Civilization textbook while her 9-year-old son, Brandon, plays with a puzzle and her daughter, Victoria, 11, is in her room.
“This is basically the only way that I feel that I can actually do it,” she said.
Online classes are popular with colleges because they can expand the potential universe of students, from active members of the military to faraway workers seeking a specialized program.
Take Erica Ulman of South Carolina. She’s a student at Passaic County Community College in Paterson, N.J., although she has never set foot on campus.
Ulman, 30, hopes to trade her paralegal career for work in medical records, a growing field.
A contact at a hospital near her home referred her to Passaic County Community College, which offers an online associates degree program in health information technology.
She registered last July and hopes to complete her degree during the spring 2010 semester.
(Distributed by MCT)