Distance Learning Gains Popularity Among College Students Seeking Non-Traditional Paths

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Distance studying is gaining in popularity. The latest data from the National Center for Education Statistics released in 2011 details that there were about 4.3 million undergraduate students that took at least one distance learning course or online course. This amounts to 20 percent of all undergraduates enrolled in college in the 2007-2008 school year. There were about 0.8 million or 4 percent of all undergraduates that completed their entire undergraduate degree online during the same period.

Students find that by giving consideration to distance studying they have more opportunities available.

Online or distance studying makes it easier for a busy student to complete a degree. Fewer students can attend school full-time without taking on a part-time job. The time constraint can then make it difficult to make classes and still be available to the employer. For most college student related jobs require flexible schedules. An online study program can allow a student to work as much as needed while not requiring they sideline their classes or study time.

Distance learning can offer the opportunity for students that live far from a campus to take a course. With rising fuel costs, the opportunity to take a course and leave the car parked rather than commuting is making it possible for more to take courses. There are many students who could not afford the fuel it would take to commute as well as the tuition for a course.

Students find that, by giving consideration to distance studying, they have more opportunities available. Perhaps the nearest campus is many miles away that would require a move to attend class. The nearest campus may not offer the field of study and would require the student to compromise on their goals. However, with distance learning, a student can stay at home and study with the school they desire no matter their location or they can choose the field of study they want with little to no compromise no matter where they live.

There has been an increase in those taking distance learning courses as well as an increase in the schools offering distance learning. The number of students taking a distance learning course increased 20 percent in 2007-2008. However, the number of students that completed their entire education online decreased from 5 to 4 percent. This is likely due to more physical campuses offering online courses that permit students to combine traditional with distance learning over having to choose one or the other.

Another growing trend in non-traditional undergraduate and graduate studies is life experience courses and degrees. Some call this prior learning or working experience credit. This offers a student the opportunity to have consideration for credit for their knowledge already obtained through life or work experience. One such institution offering prior experience credit is Almeda University which is a Web based institution that only offers distance learning.

Almeda University spokesperson, Richard Smith, remarked that the survey data does not surprise him and he believes the number of students pursing non-traditional routes to higher education will only keep growing. Mr. Smith said, “The weakness of the economy, the high level of unemployment in some areas, and the lack of available jobs has made having a degree of much more importance. The ability to get credit for one’s life or work experience can help control costs as one pursues their goals. I think we will see many more higher education institutions as well as employers opening their doors to this type of credit towards a degree or certification."

As fuel costs continue to be a strain on budgets and school loan lending criteria becomes tighter more students will be looking for cheaper and faster ways to complete school. For a student that must work while studying the distance learning programs or distance courses allow the ability to work towards a degree while still working.

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