Soaring Gas Prices Fueling Online Learning Enrollment
Online learning is growing at a rapid clip. The number of online students has more than doubled from fall 2002 to fall 2006, when 3.5 million — one in five — college students took at least one online course.
Online learning has always been a convenient way for students to earn bachelor’s and advanced degrees. But with gas prices soaring, online learning can mean big savings in commuting costs. And for full time prospective graduate students considering going back to college full time during a slow economy, gas prices are practically driving them to the Internet to learn about the benefits of online learning.
Interest in Drexel University Online programs, which offer the same rigorous academic standards as on-campus programs, has surged, said Dr. Kenneth Hartman, academic director of Drexel Online. Inquiries to Drexel Online from prospective students shot up 22 percent in May and June compared with the same period last year, Hartman said. Gas prices averaged $3 a gallon May and June 2007 — more than a dollar less than today.
Additionally, applications to Drexel Online for the fall 2008 term rose 86 percent April through June compared with January through March, Hartman said. Gas prices leaped $1 a gallon in Greater Philadelphia from April 1 through June 30 compared with the first quarter of the year, when prices hovered at $3.10 a gallon. The number of applications for the fall term increased 55 percent May through June — when gas prices jumped 55 cents in Greater Philadelphia — compared with March through April, when gas prices averaged $3.30 a gallon.
Hartman says gas prices are not only causing families to rethink their grocery lists and take “staycations” this year, they’re motivating students to give a good, hard look at online learning.
“If gas prices continue their meteoric rise and people face through-the-roof heating costs this fall and winter, the already explosive growth in online learning could get another big boost,” said Hartman.
Students such as Margaret McFadden, who just began taking Drexel Online courses for a master’s degree in teaching, learning and curriculum, are relieved gas prices aren’t adding up as a surprise education expense. Her Bensalem, Pa., home is 30 miles from Drexel’s main campus in West Philadelphia.
“Every time I see gas prices going up, I thank my lucky stars that gasoline is not an additional expense I have to worry about,” she said.
Kimberly Banks enrolled this summer as a first-term student in Drexel Online’s bachelor’s degree program in communications. Deciding to go to college online — and save time and money on commuting expenses from her Willow Grove, Pa., home — was a smart move to make, she said.
“I decided to enroll in an online program for the convenience and flexibility,” she said. “Saving money on gas is now just icing on the cake.”
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Niki Gianakaris, Assistant Director, Drexel News Bureau
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