More College Students Logging in to Learn

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Mar. 4–More than 42,000 students took at least one class online at Ohio’s public universities or community colleges in 2005, according to a study issued today. That’s almost 10 percent of the students in Ohio’s public higher education institutions. An additional 21,790 students took e-courses at private colleges in the state, according to the report by the Ohio Learning Network, an arm of the Ohio Board of Regents. Community and technical colleges provided courses to about 60 percent of the online public-school students. Of those taking online courses:

  • Two-thirds were female.
  •  Half were 25 or older.
  • Half were full-time students, although the report could not say how many were full-time online students. “The big thing that online is doing is allowing a (traditional on-campus) student to take an extra class,” said William Kopp, spokesman for Columbus State Community College. “Really what’s it helped us do is increase the average number of credit hours that our students are taking.”

With 4,879 online students, Columbus State, based Downtown, edged Cuyahoga Community College, in Cleveland, as the top Ohio school for e-learning. Columbus State also is one of 240 community colleges nationwide whose credits transfer into Franklin University’s online program, Franklin spokeswoman Sherry Mercurio said. That has allowed students to work seamlessly toward an undergraduate degree.

“These are people who are working all day and they’re also balancing their family life as well,” Mercurio said. “At this point, at least 65 percent of our students take at least one course online. That’s obviously a very large and growing area for us.” Franklin University, also based Downtown, is private. In 2005, 4,709 students took online courses through Franklin.

Long-distance “correspondence courses” are nothing new — many Ohio schools have offered them for a half-century — but the Internet has made the experience better, said Kate Carey, executive director of the Ohio Learning Network.

“The technology gives you the flexibility” that was missing with classes taken through the mail or on tapes, Carey said. “That’s what I think is making the numbers jump.” The number of e-students in 2005 was up 12.9 percent over the previous year, but the Ohio Learning Network downplayed the significance of the increase. Officials there said the total number of students in Ohio was up 5 percent during the same period, and not as many schools responded to their survey in 2004 as in 2005, possibly skewing the comparison.

But there is no doubt online degrees have grown in popularity. In 1999, the OhioLearns! catalog of online higher-education programs offered by public and private schools in the state listed 519 courses by 17 institutions. By 2005, it had grown to more than 3,000 courses at 51 institutions.

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