By Scott Baldauf, writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor
As a competitive equestrian, Georgina Maskrey has cleared hundreds of chin-high hurdles and slippery ponds with the ease of a champion. But the greatest obstacle of them all came when she tried to find time to attend college.
Now the aspiring Olympic athlete from Thousand Oaks, Calif., has found a way to beat time without sacrificing her demanding training schedule. She takes college courses at night over the Internet.
To find her weekly assignments, she logs onto the Internet Web site for her school, Seattle Central Community College. To hear a lecture, she pops a video tape into her VCR. To get answers and feedback, she sends electronic-mail messages to her professors and classmates. And when she travels with her horse, Union Jack, to some distant competition, she does homework on her laptop computer. "I went to a junior college for a while, and there was no homework," says the young business major, after a recent day-long practice. "Here, I'm doing 15- to 20-page papers all the time." For the growing population of working students who must fit classes into their work schedules, cybercollege is the most convenient way to get ahead. And for a growing number of colleges, the Internet is good business. In the past five years, the number of colleges offering courses over the Internet has grown from a dozen to more than 300. Most of these schools, like prestigious Duke University in Durham, N.C., will keep their ivy-covered campuses while using the Internet to make their programs more accessible without building new dorms and lecture halls. Others, like the University of Phoenix, and Western Governors University (still under development) and International University in Denver, are making distance learning their specialty. A few, like the proposed California Virtual University, will exist only in cyberspace. But while high technology provides new tools for reaching more prospective students, the driving force may be the changing face of America's student population. "It used to be that adult students were pariahs on campus," says Kenneth Green, a visiting scholar who studies the cybercollege phenomenon at the Claremont Graduate School in California. Now, 5 out of 11 college students are over the age of 24, boosting overall enrollment from 12 million to 20 million students. There are no data tracking how many of these students attend college exclusively by computer, but Dr. Green says "the market is exploding." And colleges had better keep looking for even more ways to accommodate more students, he adds, as the children of baby boomers reach college age. The growth in Internet learning shows that "campuses are responding to the market," Green says. …