Department of Education’s Report Shows Online Education Skyrocketing

While it wasn't around a decade ago, online education has skyrocketed according to a new report released by the U.S. Department of Education. The data shows that four big universities are operating mostly online and are now some of the largest education institutions in the USA. Only one of the four is non-profit, but all of the schools have awarded 1 in 16 bachelor's and post-graduate awards and also 1 in 11 advanced education awards, which includes master's degrees and doctorates. One of these schools is University of Phoenix, a school which only in 2001 awarded 72 education degrees to teachers, administrators and other school personnel through online programs. However, last year, University of Phoenix awarded 6,000 degrees, more than any other university.

The top online universities awarding degrees include University of Phoenix, Walden University, Grand Canyon University, National University, Nova Southeastern University, Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, Western Governors University, Lamar University, Touro College, American College of Education and Ashford University.

Traditional colleges still award most of the bachelor's degrees for teachers. Arizona State University was at the top of that list with 970 bachelor's degrees in 2011 alone. However, online schools like Phoenix and Walden University are awarding thousands more master's degrees.

"We shouldn't be surprised because the whole industry is moving in that direction," said Robert Pianta, dean of the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education. "The thing I would be interested in knowing is the degree to which they are simply pushing these things in order to generate dollars or whether there's some real innovation in there."

Pianta's question is a valid one, and it's one that has also been posed by members of Congress and even President Barack Obama. While for-profit universities have been scrutinized for their practices, online education schools are offering education that is accredited to many people who would otherwise not be able to afford an education or who don't have the time to go to school. It's not just for-profit schools that are creating rigorous online degree programs either. Plenty of traditional schools have turned budget over to produce incredible online programs that meet the needs of students and the demands of teaching and nursing industries—which currently have a lack of workers.

So are online degrees getting better or worse? Meredith Curley, dean of the University of Phoenix College of Education, said that many students go back to school to complete education after creating a family and transitioning into new careers. The average age of UP student is 33 and many work while also attending courses. In addition, Becky Lodewyck, the associate dean at UP, stated that candidates in degree programs must complete 100 hours of field experience. If anything, online degrees simply offer another choice for education, and as schools move forward, online degrees will continue to receive prominent attention and gain better technology.

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