The headline appeared in the New York Times on February 21, 1994: “Computers and Phones Pave New Path to College Degree.” The article characterized how the future of the college classroom “may be no classroom at all.” It went on to describe rising demand among students for “long-distance study” (the term online education hadn’t yet entered our vernacular). Among many faculty members quoted in the article, however, there was skepticism about teaching over a computer.
Fast forward to today, more than 25 years later. Online education has been the main driver of growth in higher education enrollments in the United States over the last decade, even before the Covid-19 pandemic forced essentially every college course to be delivered remotely.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, one out of every three college students took at least one online class in 2018, representing 6.95 million learners. The share of online students in the U.S. has increased by 30 percent since 2010, even as the number of on-campus students dropped by more than a million.
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