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Originally published October 26, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 26, 2007 at 10:38 AM

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Online universities

While some college students enjoy the camaraderie of dorm life and the stimulation of classroom discussions, an increasing number like the...

Special to The Seattle Times

Distance-Learning Resources

The Sloan Consortium

www.sloan-c.org/

Nonprofit that maintains a searchable catalog of online degree and certificate programs nationwide.

University of Washington Online Learning, certificate and degree programs. www.onlinelearning.washington.edu

WashingtonOnline

www.waol.org

Home of the state's community and technical-college online-education programs.

Washington State University Distance Degree Programs

http://distance.wsu.edu

Western Governors University

www.wgu.edu

This nonprofit, founded by the governors of 19 Western states, offers online degrees that are "competency-based" (focused on demonstrating competence to advance in a program, not sitting in a classroom), including six bachelor's programs.

Washington's Higher Education Coordinating Board

www.hecb.wa.gov/ (type in "diploma mill" in its search field)

Guidelines and warning signs to help you weed out legitimate programs from diploma mills and counterfeit diploma Web sites.

"Peterson's Guide to Distance Learning Programs 2005," (Petersons Guides, $29.95). More than 4,600 profiles of more than 1,100 accredited degree-granting U.S. and Canadian schools with distance-learning programs.

AMERICAN DISTANCE EDUCATION CONSORTIUM

www.adec.eduA list of about 65 state universities and colleges with real degrees from their virtual programs.

ONLINE DEGREES AND PROGRAM INFORMATION

www.program-online-degree.comSolid answers to common questions about online undergraduate, Master's-degree and MBA-degree programs; also links to some programs, but check with the state higher-education or work-force-training boards about any program you're interested in.

Online versus classroom

Time: Most instructors say online courses require similar amounts of time as classroom programs.

Money: Online and traditional classroom costs at a given institution are generally about the same, including admission fees and books, though for online classes you'll have some additional tech fees and the cost of computer equipment, software and maintenance. The financial-aid process is the same, too.

Personal touch: Distance learning offers little or no in-person contact with instructor and classmates, though potentially more student-to-student contact via discussion boards and e-mails.

CAUTION: Be wary of "diploma mills" lacking accreditation. While some online programs may look like the real thing, students need to research the site before wasting time and money on a dead-end degree.

Source: Distance Learning for the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges; www.distancelearn.about.com; www.detc.org; www.geteducated.com/articles/degreemills.asp.

Suzanne Monson, Special to The Seattle Times

While some college students enjoy the camaraderie of dorm life and the stimulation of classroom discussions, an increasing number like the option of earning credits from home, clad in their bathrobes.

The number of students nationwide taking online college courses skyrocketed nearly 40 percent from 2.3 million in 2004 to 3.2 million in 2005, according to a recent study by the nonprofit Sloan Consortium.

For-profit online universities market heavily to prospective students. What's often less known is that state institutions offer an array of affordable, high-quality online courses. The two biggest state-based online programs are those of the University of Washington and Washington State University.

At the UW, more than 15 graduate-degree programs and 20 certificate programs are offered online, along with hundreds of for-credit and noncredit courses.

More than 8,000 students took online classes from the UW in the 2005-06 school year; with many regular UW classes tough to get into, increasing numbers of students are taking a course or two online to stay on track with their degrees, says Sam Smith, a member of the Washington State Higher Education Coordinating Board and former Washington State University president.

"Students are finding this is a very good way for them to get courses at the time they would like them," Smith says.

At WSU, online education focuses on bachelor's-degree completion, particularly for students who have an A.A. degree, says Muriel Oaks, dean of the Center for Distance and Professional Education. More than 5,000 students enroll online each semester in its seven undergraduate-degree completion programs — in social sciences, human development, humanities, criminal justice, business management/operations, business management/information systems and women's studies.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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