Who is studying online? The answer, and other facts, may surprise you.
When you think of going to college, you probably imagine actually going - as in attending classes at a traditional campus. But that conception of higher education is quickly becoming outmoded.
Another fast-growing way to earn a college degree is through online education. Even the brick-and-mortar colleges are catching on. In fact, more than half of schools in the U.S. currently offer online programs, according to a recent report by the Babson Survey Group that tracks ten years of online education.
In just the last decade, the number of schools offering these types of programs nearly doubled, according to the Babson report. In 2002 only 34.5 percent of schools offered complete online programs. By 2012 over 62 percent of schools offered online degrees.
And during that same timeframe, the number of students enrolled in online courses quadrupled - going from 1.6 million in the fall of 2002 to 6.7 million in the fall of 2012.
But who are these millions of students? We turned to a "2013 Online College Students" study by Learning Group and Aslanian Market Research to find out more about this rapidly growing student population.
1. The typical online student looks like you and me.When you imagine someone taking online courses, you may think of tech-savvy youth who grew up with the internet. But in fact, the typical online student is a middle-aged married woman (about 35 years old), reports the "Online College Students" survey.
The survey reports that as much as 62 percent of online students are married or have a partner, and 56 percent have children.
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But not all online students are middle-aged. According to the survey, "online education is working for young people as well as adults. Roughly one-third of the undergraduate students surveyed are of traditional college age (18-24 years old)."
2. More than half of them are holding down a nine-to-five.According to the survey, 56 percent of online students have full-time jobs. This highlights one of the potential major benefits of earning a degree online - convenience.
"Online [study] works with all work schedules, especially those who travel for work or hold non-traditional schedules," says Liz Musil, founder of Liz Musil Consultants, a business and educational consulting company that serves both traditional and online universities. "It allows them to go to school, where it may not be possible in a traditional setting."
The report also reveals that 16 percent of online students work part-time, and a quarter are not employed.
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3. For nearly half of them, completing their online programs helped them get a new job or a salary increase.As the popularity of online education has grown, so has skepticism surrounding it.
According to the report, 44 percent of students improved their employment standing by obtaining their first job, a full-time job, or a new job. For those who stayed with their current employer, 45 percent of them received salary increases, and 36 percent received promotions.
Additionally, a majority of students - 65 percent - found it to be a worthwhile financial investment. And nearly 75 percent agreed that it was a good investment of their time.
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4. Online students are earning degrees in almost any subject their hearts desire - from graphic design to psychology.More than a third of undergraduate students enrolled in an online program study business, notes the survey. But they are also interested in a variety of other fields.
Check out the survey's list of the 15 most popular online undergraduate programs:
- Business Administration/Management
- Information Technology
- Criminal Justice/Law Enforcement
- Graphic Design
- Health Care Administration
- Computer Science
- Early Childhood Education
- Medical Coding/Billing/Administration
- Computer and Information Systems Security
- Law/Paralegal Studies
- Human Resources
5. It's not just undergrad degrees that online students are pursuing...It's popular to earn an undergraduate degree online - 48 percent of online students are pursuing either an associate's or bachelor's degree. But there are also many students earning both master's and doctoral degrees online.
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Specifically, 36 percent of online students are pursuing a graduate degree online, according to the report. The rest, 16 percent, intend to earn certificates and licensure.