In the not-so-distant past, the relatively small number of people who took online classes in the U.S. saw at-your-own-pace learning as a good alternative to traditional, in-person classes. Adults with careers and children often took advantage of online classes and degrees due to the convenience the classes afforded them to learn anywhere, anytime. In the minds of many people, online degree programs were largely associated with for-profit institutions, even though many nonprofit institutions offered individual online courses.
Today, what was once a niche educational medium has become part of the mainstream. For instance, 60 percent of post secondary institutions report online offerings. And the proportion of higher education students currently taking at least one online course is at an all-time high of 34 percent, or an estimated 7 million students—with online enrollment growing more than five times faster than total enrollment. More than 3 million students—15 percent of all higher education students—are currently learning primarily through online courses—defined as studying in a program that is at least 80 percent online. That figure is up from 6 percent nearly a decade ago.
In addition, online education is associated with a wide range of educational institutions, including some of the most prestigious nonprofit universities in the country. What had at one point involved a trade-off of quality for convenience has begun to achieve a level of quality in terms of reputation and teaching that requires fewer compromises. <Read more.>