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. …