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Online colleges in Montana can be helpful to advancing higher education and degree attainment in the state, but can also benefit students in rural areas who may seek access to career training.

Online Colleges in Montana

There is no denying online education is a growing trend. According to "Changing Course," the 10th annual report on the state of U.S. online education published by the Sloan Consortium and its partners, the number of students taking at least one online course increased by more than 570,000 students in the fall of 2011, reaching a new high of 6.7 million.

Online enrollment grew by 9.3 percent in the last year, and resulted in nearly one-third of all higher education students taking at least one course online. Students are being driven toward distance learning because of the many variables online education can present, and the alternatives it offers to those who may interested in following their own unique academic routes. Like many other institutions of higher learning, online schools and colleges in Montana are taking part in this movement, offering distance learning options that can range from certificate to degree programs.

To encourage high school students to continue their education and give rural students a chance to take courses that may not be available at their local schools, the state started the Montana Digital Academy in 2010. The virtual high school is hosted by the University of Montana's College of Education and Human Sciences, and offers online college courses that allow students to earn dual credit in topics such as College Writing I, Business Mathematics, Intro to Medical Terminology, Introduction to Astronomy, Basic Human Nutrition, Intro to Psychology, Introduction to Archeology and Small Business Entrepreneurship.

Trends in Montana Online Schools

In the fall of 2011, the Montana Board of Regents of Higher Education adopted a new policy that created an eLearning advisory committee, or EAC. This was to be made up of educational leaders from within the Montana University system, including one member from every campus and community college, and help with the alignment of distance learning objectives. The overall goal of the EAC is to act as an advisory arm to the board, and weigh in on matters related to the delivery of online learning and the technologies associated with it.

Montana State University at Bozeman has partnered with MSU Great Falls Community College to work on the North American Network of Science Labs Online, or NANSLO, initiative. As part of this initiative, students in online areas of including biology, chemistry and physics are given remote access to monitor lab instrumentation and conduct experiments. These remote-based science labs require students to log in to the NANSLO website, and gives them the ability to talk with lab technicians in the lab and work with students who are logged in to work on the same experiment.

College Degrees in Montana

Although Montana may have one of the nation's smallest populations, it is 19th in the country in terms of rate of college degree attainment, according to the nonprofit Lumina Foundation (luminafoundation.org). The number of adults in the state with at least a two-year degree reached nearly 40 percent in 2010, surpassing the national average. However, the foundation predicts that by 2018, 63 percent of jobs in the state will require a college degree. Online schools in Montana could help meet the additional demand, making academic degrees and learning more widely accessible to students with unique needs.

CareerOneStop (careerinfonet.org), a website sponsored by the U. S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration, reports the fastest-growing occupations in Montana that require a four-year degree include those for industrial engineers and health educators. These jobs are expected to grow 30 percent and 27 percent, respectively, by 2018. Other occupations on the list expected to see high growth include those for actuaries, financial analysts, logisticians and public relation specialists. Students interested in some of these these fields and others could find online colleges in Montana a potential route to learning and a way to work toward developing a career.

Online College in Montana

The Montana University System (mus.edu/online) offers many of the online degrees available in Montana, with 11 schools providing more than 700 courses each semester. Students can study for almost 100 degree and certificate programs. Additionally, the National Teachers Enhancement Network, established under the Montana University System, offers online graduate science courses aimed at professional development for educators.

The University of Montana's online campus offers certificates and degrees in undergraduate disciplines such as anthropology and communications studies, or a master's degree in education, public administration or music education. In the spring of 2013, Montana State University also offered niche distance learning classes, such as Native American studies at the undergraduate and graduate level. In the first part of the year, it also offered a non-credit course on the oil boom occurring in the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota and Montana.

Sources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Montana Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates
CareerOneStop
Lumina Foundation
Montana Board of Regents of Higher Education
Montana Digital Academy
Montana State University
Montana University System Distance Learning
North American Network of Science Labs Online
University of Montana

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