As students proficient in social media and computers enter college, many are enrolling in online degree programs, according to a 2018 study.
And now the state is prepared to add its 115th community college, this one entirely online.
The California Online Community College will offer on-demand access to education and workforce training for California’s 2.5 million “stranded” adults 25 and older.
According to Eloy Ortiz Oakley, California Community College systems chancellor, the online school will use a competency-based education model and plans to begin enrolling students this fall for short-term credentials in three initial areas — medical coding, information technology, and supervisor roles, according to community sollege officials.
“A credential from a California community college is the path to a better life for millions of Californians,” Oakley said in a statement. “The 115th online college will help increase social mobility for California’s working adults seeking better wages within a rapidly changing economy.”
According to the report “Grade Increase,” released in January 2018 by the Babson Survey Research Group, more than 6.3 million undergraduate students in the US took at least one online course in the fall of 2016, a 5.6 percent increase from 2015.
The survey is based on federal data from more than 4,700 colleges and universities. That was the 14th consecutive year that Babson has reported growth in online enrollment.
“There is no question online education is here to stay,” said Pasadena City College Trustee James Osterling. “As kind of an old school teacher I think there is no substitute for face to face learning. In the ideal world, I think the optimal way is going to be online and in-class face to face learning. I think everybody is trying to sort through that and figure out how to accommodate the online model into education. For working people it might be easier to do some education at work or at home. They can be anywhere in the world.”
Online degrees are most commonly offered in business and the health field, but they are becoming increasingly popular in other areas, such as education and engineering.
Business is the most popular major for online learners, but education classes are more readily available at major universities, according to the Center for Online Education.
Of the 263 schools, 75 offered online courses in education in 2018, including training programs required for teacher certification, as well as education administration programs.
Health professions dominate the second and third positions and include nursing and health care administration. Engineering, computer science, and information sciences round out the top five.
However, the increase in enrollment for online degree programs is coming at a price for smaller private colleges, where declining enrollments are having an impact on tuition.
St. John’s College, with campuses in Annapolis, Maryland and Santa Fe, New Mexico this year reduced its tuition from $52,734 to $35,000, according to NPR.
St. John’s joined more than 20 other private colleges nationwide that have reduced prices in the past three years.
In fact, between 2012 and 2016, the total number of students studying strictly on a physical campus dropped by more than 1 million, or 6.4 percent.
Enrollment numbers in online classes varies widely from state to state, said Julia Seaman, research director for Babson and a co-author of the study. New Hampshire, West Virginia and Utah are among the states that draw the greatest proportion of out-of-state, online-only students.
Online course enrollment is highly concentrated, with just 5 percent of schools accounting for nearly half of all online students.
But many students still want access to on-campus resources due to local connections.
“It’s the school their co-workers went to; it’s the school that they see the billboard for or the placard on the subway for or something like that — all of which are very, very locally oriented,” Seaman said.
The opportunity to switch between a physical classroom and online learning may also be a big factor in the general appeal of local online degree programs.
Nearly 53 percent of students who took at least one online course in 2016 also enrolled in a physical class, according to the survey.
“The anytime, anywhere piece, they like that, at least for a portion of what they’re doing,” Seaman said. “The second reason tended to be scheduling; it made it possible to do the right courses to get your degree that you could not necessarily do — or do conveniently — if you were taking all on-ground courses.”