Online education's boom should help to dispel any lingering economic gloom.
A September 26, 2010 article appearing in the University World News brings word of the robust financial health of for-profit universities. "The profits are high, indeed, with 14 of the largest for-profit providers in the US valued at more than $26 billion in July 2010," the article reports.
The most recent quarter earnings for the Apollo Group were $1.34 billion, up nearly 28% from last year. Meanwhile, Princeton Review brought in second quarter earnings of $56.2, a 79% increase on last year.
These twin titans -- Apollo, to which belongs, among others, The University of Phoenix and its sibling, Axia College; and The Princeton Review, of which Kaplan University is the marquee institution -- have put up numbers that would be remarkable in a sunnier economic climate, but that are nothing short of staggering in light of the fact that the United States has only just begun to wriggle out from the dark clouds of recession.
Of course, this success owes much to the resiliency of the American workforce, which refuses to take stints of bad fortune lying down. Worker retraining can, however, prove to be a tricky thing: Workers often have huge responsibilities -- to family, friends, and often the military -- that make flexibility a welcome advantage when it comes to re-credentialing and re-skilling. It so happens that online educational institutions find themselves in a much better position in this regard than the traditional "brick-and-mortar" colleges and universities we've come to esteem so highly. Newer on the scene, online schools make up what they lack in tradition with dynamism, robustness, and flexibility with respect to life in the digital age -- which is turbulent, to say the least.
Because life in the digital age is turbulent, the advantage falls to the player who can stay one step ahead of the game. One school, Capella University (along with The University of Phoenix and Kaplan, another industry giant) has seized the initiative by confronting full-on the thorniest challenges the digital age can throw at it.
A September 23, 2010 release from BusinessWire reports that "Capella University, an accredited online university that has built its reputation by providing high quality online degree programs for working adults, has been recognized by the National University Telecommunications Network (NUTN) for excellence in distance education innovation." The program in question, Capella's Education doctoral program, is the subject of a study entitled "Next Generation Learning: New Models for Course Personalization and Relationship Building," which Capella submitted for consideration to the NUTN. This study, the BusinessWire release reports, "won the NUTN 2010 Distance Education Innovation Award."
Not a bad showing for a relative newcomer on the higher-education scene. And it goes to show the tremendous importance of proactive solutions to digital-age challenges. Capella's triumph should fill any skeptic of online education with confidence. Competition in this market is fierce, and thus the pressure to innovate, and to offer substantial value, is acutely felt.
An opinion piece in the September 23, 2010 edition of The Baltimore Sun offers a clear sense just how steeply the field has tipped in favor of online education. "Technological innovations are transforming the way that students learn," the Sun piece reports.
Online learning and so-called virtual education programs now offer innovative and customized ways to teach students. A recent estimate found that the number of K-12 students participating in online learning programs topped 1 million in 2008 -- a 47 percent increase since 2006. This number will grow rapidly over the next decade. In their book "Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns," Michael Horn and Harvard professor Clayton M. Christensen predict that within 10 years, 50 percent of all high school courses will be taken online.
Clearly, any educational program that fails to get with the digital program will find itself on the wrong side of history, because so many high school students completing so much of their coursework online will only drive further demand for colleges and universities to implement a similar approach.
Indeed, this will not simply be a matter of choice but of utter necessity in both financial and social terms. A September 26, 2010 opinion piece appearing in the Zanesville Ohio Times Recorder reminds us exactly what's at stake.
Distance learning technology allows students to enroll in classes and even earn entire degrees without setting foot in a brick-and-mortar building. For instance, here in Muskingum County, high school students are taking courses in Chinese from teachers miles away. They are doing so without the expense of adding another full-time teacher, saving taxpayers' money and providing language skills that will help students succeed in a global economy. At Zane State, students are able to use distance-learning technology to complete bachelor's degrees at other colleges. By providing close-to-home educational opportunities, technology allows southeastern Ohio to plug the "brain drain" that starts when our high school students leave the region to pursue educational opportunities that are unavailable to them here.
Convenience, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness are not the least of online education's virtues; online education puts literally an entire world of learning at your fingertips: a powerful thing to have in your corner as you prepare yourself for a career -- or retrain for a new one -- in the digital age.