Online education is growing in popularity, but some degrees are burning hotter than others...
Have you been thinking about going back to school to earn or finish your degree but you're worried you don't have the time? You're not alone. Many people who want to pursue a degree also have jobs, kids, and social obligations. So for many - many thousands actually - online education is the answer.
In fact, according to a Fall 2010 study by Eduventures*, a higher education research and analysis company, the adult (aged 25+) online headcount at degree-granting schools was approximately 27 percent of the total adult headcount at degree-granting schools. And by 2015, that number is expected to hit 39 percent.
Why is online education so popular among adult learners?
"More and more, higher education is an essential stepping stone to a better job or a better life," says Richard Garrett, Eduventures vice president and principal analyst. "But after a certain age, most people have family responsibilities and job responsibilities, and it's hard to accommodate school. So if they can eliminate the commute and study late at night when schools tend not to be open, it makes it possible to go back to school."
And because these students are more focused on improving their quality of life, getting a promotion, or switching careers, Garrett says their choice in degrees tends to be practical in nature...not many people log on to study Greek literature or philosophy.
So what's hot in online education? Keep reading to get the lowdown on some popular online degree options.
With an online headcount of 400,000, according to the Eduventures study, a bachelor's degree in business far outpaces any other subject in terms of number of students.
That's because, says Garrett, today's student is much more practical than in years past.
"The educational system itself is becoming much more mainstream and therefore, people are a bit more instrumental about why they go. It's less about finding [themselves] and more about finding a career, and business implies at least some sort of very hands-on tangible career value," says Garrett.
Garrett says that business itself is a good fit for online study. "In a sense, online replicates a growing characteristic of working in a business in so far as you might be working for a multi-national firm with employees scattered all over the country or world. A lot of your communications are electronic," he says.
What You Might Study: If you're wondering what courses are typical for this major, here's what's listed for business administration and management on the website of the College Board, a nonprofit research organization that promotes higher education: accounting, business statistics, economics, human resources management, marketing, and more.
We're guessing it doesn't come as a shock to you that, according to the Eduventures study, 95,000 bachelor of computer information technology (CIT) students earned their degrees online. After all, it makes sense to study computers with a computer, right?
According to Garrett, the field of CIT benefited from being identified as a very practical field from early on in online education. "There's been an affinity for CIT from some very career-oriented schools...that embraced online early and saw an ever broader workplace need for people with CIT skills, which many traditional schools weren't offering," he says.
And yes, CIT fits the online paradigm, he says. "I think computing, by its very nature, embraces new technology. It's also a very obvious career-oriented field that's appealing to adults," says Garrett.
What You Might Study: If you are the techie type and go for an information technology major, the College Board says your typical class schedule might include some of the following: introduction to computer science, computer networking, systems analysis and design, and web technologies.
A bachelor's in criminal justice is another degree that made Eduventures' list with 90,000 online students enrolled at the time of the study.
Garrett says it's because this major is very versatile, applying to careers in law enforcement, fire science, corrections, and emergency management.
In fact, criminal justice is an area that didn't have a direct correlation between these careers and higher education until relatively recently, he says. Most of the training was done in-house at police and fire academies.
"But as those fields have thought of themselves as more professional, it started to become either required or preferred in particular fields for you to have an associate's or bachelor's degree," says Garrett.
Garrett says the criminal justice degree fits the online education paradigm nicely. That's because a lot of the information is theoretical in nature.
What You Might Study: Consider the typical coursework listed by the College Board: They say you might study things like criminology, victimology, statistics, criminal law, and criminal justice research methods.
Now, you might think an area of study such as nursing, in which you'd expect some hands-on learning, would not be a favorite for online education. But you'd be wrong - nursing boasted 80,000 online students in 2010 according to the Eduventures study. Garrett says that's because in many online nursing programs, there is still some hands-on work.
According to Garrett, Eduventures uses the threshold of 80 percent to determine whether a course is considered online or not. That means 80 percent of classes and coursework must be taken online. In the case of nursing, 20 percent is hands-on.
And, as that hands-on aspect implies, he says this is a popular degree because it has such a direct correlation to a career. In other words, you know exactly what your post-graduation goal is.
Another reason online fits, per Garrett, is because many registered nurses who qualified by earning a diploma through an accredited nursing program - not an associate's or bachelor's degree - are feeling more pressure to get their degrees to qualify for a promotion.
"So online is a very practical way for them to work full time and get their degrees, because they have the hands-on experience and just need the theoretical component," he says.
What You Might Study: According to the College Board, that means you might take classes that satisfy this theoretical component including anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, nutrition, and psychology.
Being taught to teach - online - is proving to be very popular, according to the Eduventures study. It found that 46,000 students are studying for their bachelor's in education online (and a whopping 140,000 are going for their master's in education, making it the second most popular online master's degree). Why so popular?
"There are more and more ways you can accommodate licensing programs at the bachelor's level," says Garrett. And again, this degree has a direct link to a career; students and employers know what they want out of it, he says.
Garrett adds that new innovations in technology make this online degree more practical and exciting. "We're starting to see some examples of education online degrees that do include a practical element. So the students will be in a regular classroom, in a regular school, and they will perhaps video their practice and then feed that back to the faculty and other students for a critique," he says.
What You Might Study: If you want to study education, the College Board says you'll likely take classes like educational psychology, instructional technology, philosophy of education, and teaching methods.
*Eduventures' 2011 study titled "The Big Picture 2011."
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