Boston Herald - Online ed offers higher degrees of convenience

Boston Herald - Online ed offers higher degrees of convenience

By Jennifer Heldt Powell-

More than 21,000 University of Massachusetts students took classes last year without setting foot on campus. They logged on to computers for lectures and communicated with professors and classmates via e-mail and chat rooms.

The program, just five years old, grew by 20 percent this year, mirroring what is happening nationwide.

"We're offering something that the marketplace really wants," said David Gray, UMassOnline chief executive.

The growth of online education is fueled by the growing supply of programs, as well as surging demand, said Frank Mayadas, program director for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which studies the movement.

 

Nearly 60 percent of schools say that online education is critical to their long-term strategy, up from 50 percent two years ago, according to the foundation's annual online education survey released in November.

 

Sixty-three percent of schools offering undergraduate face-to-face courses also offer undergraduate courses online, the report showed. Of those offering face-to-face graduate degrees, 65 percent also offer online graduate courses.

Online courses are offered for everything from earning a bachelor's degree to getting continuing medical education credits that doctors need to maintain their licenses.

"The online classes are really growing because they're tailored to what you need," said Dr. James Liljestrand, chairman of the Massachusetts Medical Society's Continuing Medical Education Committee.

The classes can't replace hands-on learning needed for clinical work, bu they can fill the gap on conceptual issues, he said. And, doctors with hectic practices can fit them in on the evenings and weekends.

Generally, degrees and credits from major universities and schools earned online appear no different than those earned on campus.

"Our survey continues to show that chief academic officers believe the quality is equivalent (to a classroom) and may over time get even better," Mayadas said.

From a college's perspective, online learning can offer a significant way to grow without having to add buildings. Revenue from UMassOnline grew 29 percent to $21 million last year.

Date: 3/15/06

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