Too busy with work and family to consider starting or finishing college? Not a problem. More and more colleges are offering online courses. It’s actually possible to take courses in the comfort of your home and earn college credits.
First make sure that the college or university you are interested in is reputable and accredited. There are too many non-accredited institutions out there. You can check out the school of your choice quickly by going to the U.S. Department of Education or www.ed.gov/accreditation.
Who’s taking advantage of these online courses? According to statistics made available through Education Today and www.onlineuniversities.com, some 56 million students are taking courses online. Only 16 percent are traditional college students, who still enjoy the experience of meeting other students and the social benefits of being at school and/or being away from home. The average age of online students is 34 and 53 percent of them are female. The racial breakdown indicates that 46.6 percent are white, 24.8 percent are black, 29.8 percent are Hispanic, 3.2 percent are Asian and the others make up 4.6 percent. Also of note are the military students taking advantage of online courses as well as people with disabilities.
Many college-age students take online courses in addition to attending traditional classroom courses because a specific course they need or want is not available during a particular semester. If that course is available online, then students can take advantage of that option.
Community colleges, as well as four-year institutions, are offering more and more online courses because they recognize the need for this type of education. Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport and Norwalk Community College, for example, offer college credits that can be transferred to many traditional four-year colleges, such as Sacred Heart University and Fairfield University.
Recently, a man in his 30s who worked in technology at a local college was notified that if he didn’t have an official degree by a certain date he would lose his job. He immediately signed up for online classes and earned the necessary college credits he was missing and got his degree. He is now happily employed and had nothing but praise for online courses, which definitely have their advantages. They are convenient; you don’t have to travel; and you don’t have be in class before the professor arrives. Shy students who don’t like to be called on or don’t like to speak in class will find online courses especially appealing. Scheduling is another big advantage since online courses offer flexibility. Depending on your needs and available time, you can keep your full-time job and head to your computer after work. Most reputable schools offer financial assistance, and most of these courses have transferrable credits.
It’s not easy, however. Whether you’re taking an online college course in your pajamas at 3 o’clock in the morning or as soon as your house grows quiet, you still have to do the work. One of the biggest surprises for online students is that the courses are as challenging as if they were taking a course in a classroom. You still have to earn those college credits.
No matter what age you are, if you’re thinking of taking an online course, you need to be motivated, organized, responsible, and committed. The same skills that you need to get you to from start to finish at a traditional college are the same skills that are needed for online learning. You still need to know how to communicate with other online students and certainly with the professor. You need to know how to submit work via online programs, which means that you need to be familiar with online programs as well as saving and attaching assignments. Many online courses require weekly deadlines and have mid-terms and finals. Be prepared to study.
In spite of all the advantages, an online education is not for everybody. For students who need the human connection, even video lectures won’t do. If you tend to not finish projects or lose interest quickly, then you are not likely to find success with online courses.
Many prominent and prestigious four-year colleges are offering non-credited online courses for free. Senior citizens and college grads enjoy taking these types of courses for the simple joy of being challenged and learning new things. Yale University, for instance, offers free self-paced courses such as “Introduction to Classical Music,” “The Global Financial Market,” and many other choice courses that people enjoy for the sheer pleasure of learning. Visit www.class-central.com/university/yale for more courses. Harvard University also offers courses that can be “audited for free or students can choose to receive a verified certificate for a small fee.” Some of the courses include offerings such as “Super-Earth and Life,” “World Religions Through Their Scriptures,” “Entrepreneurship in Emerging Economies,” and many more. See www.edx.org/school/harvardx.
A very successful truck driver once said that he had always wanted to go to college, but when he was young, he simply couldn’t afford it. He also said that considering all the benefits he now has with his current job, he didn’t think college was in his best interest since he wasn’t about to give up his salary or benefits. However, once he realized how a college degree might move him in the same company from his truck to the office, he started rethinking online courses. He was surprised to learn that not only could he take these types of courses, but he could complete a college degree online. The saying that, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” couldn’t be more true when it comes to earning that much rewarding college degree. After all, education is about empowerment.
Joanne Greco Rochman has taught and continues to teach online courses at Housatonic Community College and Sacred Heart University.