Enrollment in online classes at Hancock College and at Santa Barbara City College, as at many other community colleges, is growing more rapidly than overall enrollment, according to school officials.

Nancy Meddings, academic dean of distance (online) learning at Hancock, said the number of students enrolled in online classes has more than doubled since 2005, when 2,293 students registered for online courses.

 “Online classes have been growing as a modality statewide and nationwide really quickly since about 2005 or so,” Meddings said.

About 5,000 students have enrolled in online courses this spring at Hancock. They are a part of an enrollment group second only to daytime registrants.

“It has consistently been the second largest group over the last several years,” Meddings said.

Local community colleges have offered students who are balancing work and family responsibilities greater access to post-secondary education with online degree programs.

Experts at local community colleges said the average online registrant is a non-traditional student who is older than average and enrolls in fewer than 12 units per semester.

“These are folks with job responsibilities, and these are folks with family responsibilities,” Meddings said.

Amy Henry, 44, works as a freelance writer and helps at home as a caregiver.

A mother of two, she has also taken more than 20 online courses at Hancock.

“For someone like me that has family obligations, it’s really the only way to go,” she said.

Distance-learning leaders at Santa Barbara City College (SBCC) and Brandman University’s Santa Maria campus also report growing student enrollment in online classes.

SBCC offers 249 fully-online classes, 41 hybrid (blended) classes, and hundreds of additional Web-enhanced on-campus classes.

“This is greater than a 50 percent increase in the number of fully and partially online classes offered five years ago in spring 2008,” said Douglas Hersh, dean of educational programs at the college.

At SBCC, 8,295 students enrolled in only online classes during the 2012-13 semester, up 35 percent from the 2007-08 school year.

Geri Ventura, 46, said she completed an associates degree in communications and liberal arts at City College last year, after beginning online courses at Hancock.

Ventura, a mother of two, has worked as a full-time administrative assistant and public information officer for the Montecito Fire Protection District for 19 years.

“Using the online curriculum and options enabled me to take more classes as a working mother and a full time employee,” she said. “Had it not been for the online classes it would have taken me much longer to complete my degree.”

Patricia Graham, director at Brandman University’s Santa Maria campus, said all undergraduate students, about 300 at the Santa Maria campus, take at least one online class as part of their degree programs, and 125 students are enrolled in only online courses.

“Since 2005 we have seen a large percentage of our local student population gravitating towards online classes,” Graham said.

U.S. News & World Report evaluated 860 online education programs and released the 2013 Best Online Education Program Rankings last month.

Brandman University in Irvine earned an eighth-place distinction for its online bachelor’s program. It is the only California institution in the magazine’s top 10, rated according to graduation rates, indebtedness of new graduates and academic and professional support services.

“We are focused on delivering an innovative online curriculum to meet the needs of busy working adult students, providing valuable degrees when they graduate,” Brandman University Chancellor Gary Brahm said.

National higher education studies that survey online learning show that online enrollment has grown substantially faster than overall higher education enrollment.

A collaborative study between the Babson Survey Research Group and the College Board measures the prevalence of online learning in the U.S. based on responses from more than 2,500 colleges and universities.

Key findings from the most recent study, “Going the Distance: Online Education in the United States, 2011,” reveal that 32 percent of higher education students, more than 6.7 million students during the fall 2011 term, took at least one course online. During the fall 2008 term, 4.6 million students had taken at least one online course, a 17 percent increase from 2007.

Distance-learning officials attribute growth in online enrollment on the Central Coast to more blended courses, an increase in online course options and the convenience of electronic class options for students.


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