Giving It the Old College Try Area's Largest Higher Education Institutions Offering Internet Classes

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Byline: Michael Burnham Medill News Service

As more Americans enroll in online college classes offered from afar, some of the Chicago area's largest higher education institutions are giving Internet teaching the new college try.

"There is a market out there for adults who want to continue their education, and many are working professionals," said Mary Miemiec, University of Illinois-Chicago's interim associate provost for external education. "We fill an academic void by offering these classes."

Enrollment in UIC's three online master's degree programs increased to 4,655 in the fall of 2002 from 636 from the fall of 1999.

The Illinois Virtual Campus representing 68 public and private schools offered 1,766 Internet courses last summer that generated 23,651 enrollments - a 77 percent increase from the prior summer, said Burks Oakley II, vice president for academic affairs at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and director of the program.

Nationwide, the online student population is growing by about 30 percent annually, according to Sean Gallagher, an analyst with Eduventures, a Boston research and advisory firm.

At the start of the current school year, about 400,000 students were enrolled in fully online classes at the nation's not-for- profit and for-profit universities, Gallagher said. About 1.2 million students were enrolled in hybrid classes, where the students learn both over the Internet and in the classroom.

DePaul University offers four degree programs where students take classes almost exclusively over the Internet. About 500 undergraduates are enrolled in a liberal arts degree program, and 500 graduate students are enrolled in three degree programs in computer science, said David Levin, DePaul's director of distance learning.

"Almost everyone in our programs is a part-time student," Levin added. "We're of the opinion that we're providing the same product whether it's online or face-to-face."

Ron Comparin, a part-time UIC graduate student who balances distance-learning courses and a 48-hour-a-week job, says distance- learning isn't for everyone. …