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Online colleges in Illinois may be helping lead the charge toward new trends. In 2012, the University of Illinois joined with Coursera to make online programming more accessible through a massive open online course offering. Plans to expand the university's courses through Coursera are underway in 2013. Read on to discover what online schools in Illinois are doing to further increase education's availability to students via a format typically viewed as flexible and convenient.

Online Colleges in Illinois

States across the nation have begun to embrace online education as an alternative to traditional classroom-based learning, and Illinois is no exception. As the advantages of online education become increasingly clear and student demand continues to grow, online colleges in Illinois are taking steps to thrive in new directions and offer more opportunities to students interested in distance learning.

Online education already has a hold in Illinois, and its influence is constantly expanding. In the fall of 2012, the University of Illinois introduced its first course through the nonprofit Coursera, which offers free online courses to users all over the world. Nearly 32,000 students enrolled in the course, Introduction to Sustainability, within the first week.

This trend toward more coursework offered through online learning is being seen nationwide. According to The Sloan Consortium report entitled "Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States," 69.1 percent of surveyed academic leaders noted that they consider online learning critical to their school's long-term goals.

Trends in Illinois Online Schools

The Illinois government also recognizes the potential associated with online learning. In July 2010, Governor Pat Quinn signed legislation broadening the definition of textbooks to include digital textbooks, and made textbook funding sources available for electronic textbooks. According to TechAmerica, studies show that schools using digital textbooks report higher attendance rates, improved writing scores, and increased depth of student research.

In 1998, the Illinois Virtual Campus, or IVC, formed as a partnership of Illinois colleges and universities with opportunities for online education and other forms of distance learning. The IVC aims to help make online education easily accessible to Illinois students, in part through a web-based catalog of the online course offerings and programs in the state. The IVC catalog as of spring 2013 features 66 colleges and universities providing more than 3,500 online courses and more than 100 programs.

The IVC also maintains 40 student support centers throughout the state, one for each of Illinois' community college districts. These centers offer on-site support for local online students. Another signal of the state's commitment to online education is the Illinois Online Network, a faculty development initiative that aims to enhance the quality of online instruction through courses, workshops and conferences. Since its inception in 1997, ION has reached more than 2,000 instructors through its professional development opportunities.

College Degrees in Illinois

Slightly more than 41 percent of adults age 25 to 64 in Illinois hold a minimum of an associate degree, reports the Lumina Foundation (luminafoundation.org, 2010). This ranks the state 15th in terms of degree attainment, but by 2025 the Lumina Foundation predicts that a skills gap of 10.7 percent could exist in Illinois. Students in DuPage County may be well prepared to meet the needs for skilled workers: As of 2010, 56.16 percent of its adults age 25 to 64 held at least an associate degree. Students in other counties, such as Cass, Christian and Gallatin, however, may be in need of additional training. Online schools in Illinois could provide them with alternative ways to seeking a postsecondary education.

A Bureau of Labor Statistics report (bls.gov, 2012) on the Chicago-Joliet-Naperville metropolitan area's job growth between November 2011 and November 2012 revealed that the fastest-growing sector was professional and business services. The sector added 27,200 jobs, for a growth rate of 3.8 percent, which is higher than the nationwide rate of 2.9 percent. The second-largest growth rate appeared in the leisure and hospitality sector, which saw a 3 percent increase with 12,100 jobs added, compared with a nationwide rate of 2.4 percent. After these sectors, manufacturing employment and education and health services were the fields that saw the most growth, adding approximately 9,500 jobs and 4,900 jobs, respectively. An online degree can help job seekers seize opportunities in these expanding fields.

Online College in Illinois

Some of the state's most respected colleges offer a range of online courses and degree programs. The University of Illinois, Chicago is ranked #18 on U.S. News & World Report's list (usnews.com, 2013) of the nation's top online bachelor's degree programs. The university offers complete online bachelor's degree programs in medical informatics and nursing science, in addition to online courses in a range of fields, from business administration to engineering to pharmacy. U.S. News & World Report also ranks two other online schools in Illinois within its top 50: the University of St. Francis in Joliet, Ill. (#28) and Western Illinois University in Macomb, Ill. (#44).

The Illinois Institute of Technology also boasts a wide selection of online master's degree programs, in addition to bachelor's and certificate programs. The school was at the forefront in incorporating technological tools into its instruction, with televised lectures in the days before the Internet, and may now help students find easy access to online lectures and course materials. With the assortment of opportunities available, students can look to online colleges in Illinois to help them seek skills and training that may be advantageous to pursuing a specific career.

Sources:
Illinois Virtual Campus, Distance Learning Opportunities from Illinois Colleges and Universities
Illinois Department of Employment Security
Illinois Institute of Technology Online
TechAmerica, "TechAmerica Applauds Illinois Governor Pat Quinn for Digital Textbook Legislation," July 30, 2010
The News-Gazette, "Thousands sign up for online UI course," Sept. 4, 2012
The Sloan Consortium, "Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States," January 2013
University of Illinois Chicago Online
U.S. News & World Report, Best Online Bachelor's Programs, 2013

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