More students taking classes, getting degrees online

Experts worry that students are also missing out

ORLANDO, Fla. - Imagine getting a four-year degree in college, but never setting foot in a classroom. These days, you can, and all you need is a computer.

Local universities say that online classes are exploding in popularity, in part, because of our struggling economy. In fact, a lot of students are getting their degrees entirely online.

But experts say, those same students may be missing out on things like dorm life, joining clubs, and meeting new people.

Annabelle Loudon is a college student who's mixing face-to-face courses with online ones.

"We'd have a reading assignment, and then every week you'd have a quiz or a test," says Loudon. "So you could work on your own time during the week, which was great for me."

Experts say online education is quickly becoming the norm in America. According to a new report from the Sloan Consortium, a research firm, more than a third of students say they take at least one class on the web.

"More and more of the traditional students need non-traditional flexibility," says Tom Cavanagh, who's the Assistant Vice President of UCF's Center for Distributed Learning, which runs the school's online programs.

He says our economy is driving more people to get their degrees on the web. Everyone from students who work, to middle-aged adults who are going back to school to land a better job.

"You might have a working mom, a single mom, somebody who has child care issues at home, somebody who can't come to school at 10 o'clock on Monday, Wednesday, Friday. Online education is the answer for them," says Cavanagh

Sure, it's convenient, but are you missing out on the full college experience by only taking classes online?

Kevin Kruger thinks so. He's the president of a national agency for student affairs.

"If you ask most students what they remember about their college experience, most remember interpersonal interactions they've had, they remember the social experiences," says Kruger. "They remember the ways in which they've grown as a person. That's much harder to do in an entirely online experience."

Cavanagh says he agrees, in part. He thinks those social relationships are important -- so younger students probably want that total college experience, dorms and all, while middle-aged adults just need the coursework.

"If you are maybe a little older student, and you've got a family and you're working, you really need online education if you want a higher degree," says Cavanagh.

UCF offers thousands of online classes every year, along with about 60 degrees.

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