Technology has shaken up the traditional way of doing things in almost every sphere of life. How many people still go into banks or a travel agent these days? How many people still buy newspapers and paper maps, or stand in line at a venue for tickets?
While technology makes some things obsolete, it opens up new markets and new opportunities. One of those markets is higher education, and both universities and students are benefiting from the new way of learning online.
Campus Enrollment Numbers Keep Falling
According to research carried out by the National Student Clearinghouse, enrollment at colleges has fallen for the fifth year straight. Their figures show that college enrollment peaked in 2011, and that the age group accounting for the biggest fall is mature students aged 24 and over.
Fall enrollment in 2016 was down to 19.01 million students, a decrease of 1.4% from the previous year, which follows the trend that has evolved since student numbers peaked at 20.6 million in 2011.
Online Degree Programs Show Steady Growth
Online enrollments at colleges and universities has doubled since 2012, and figures for 2016 show that 3.5 million students signed up for online degree programs.
While online degrees used to be the preserve of degree mills churning out worthless certifications, today's degree programs are delivered by leading institutions like Rutgers University, which offers a variety of programs, including a masters of business administration, a masters of arts in liberal studies and a masters in social work online, or as it is more commonly known, an online MSW.
Benefits of Studying Online
Students cite many reasons for their desire to obtain their degree online instead of attending a college campus.
One of the biggest advantages that students find with online studies is the flexibility that these programs give them. Students can continue to work and gain experience in their chosen field while pursuing their education, they can study for a new career while taking care of young children or elderly parents, and they can get a certification from their chosen university even if they live and work on the other side of the country.
Younger Students Are Also Seeing the Benefits
Enrollment in online degree programs is rising among undergraduates. Online degree programs (bachelors and masters) used to be mainly taken up by mature students for the reasons mentioned above, but now younger students are taking advantage of online learning too. The percentage of 18 to 24-year-olds enrolled in online courses has doubled over the last four years.
The face of education will continue to change. As a generation that grew up with technology and the convenience that it offers matures and gets ready to enter higher education, it's very possible that they will increasingly turn their backs on the traditional route to getting a degree.
Tomorrow's students may opt for flexible, online degree programs that allow them to fit studying around a full time job, and that also let them reap the financial benefits of continuing to live at home while they study. In the not too distant future, college towns could be a thing of the past.