ETSU has experienced a 93 percent increase since fall 2008 in the number of enrollments in online classes.

Karen King, the senior vice provost for information technology services, said the increase can be attributed in part to the convenience associated with taking classes online.

“For me it’s about access to education,” King said. “It’s not about replacing traditional education, it’s about providing access to those people who wouldn’t get it normally — they wouldn’t come back any other way unless they could do it online.”

King said online classes offer opportunities for students who have obligations outside school preventing them from attending classes on-campus.

Heather Laurendeau, the director of marketing for online programs, said another factor likely contributing to the increase in enrollments is the appearance of more tech-savvy students on campus.

“We’re coming into the age where the first of the really and truly digital natives are coming out of high school,” Laurendeau said. “They’re familiar with the platform and are familiar with the technology and in some cases they prefer it because they can control the pace.”

However, Laurendeau said there isn’t data showing a definite correlation between these phenomenon.

King said in the early years many people believed online education was an ineffective alternative to traditional education.

“Now we’re 15 years later with all kinds of research to back it up,” King said. “We have all the same faculty teaching the courses that teach them on campus, and all of the research — 15 years of research — says that not only is there no difference in the learning, that there’s a little bit of edge to online learning.”

ETSU has only recently begun measuring the number of students enrolled in online classes, so the most reliable statistics for the purpose of tracking growth measure the number of individual enrollments in online classes. Each class taken by a student equals one enrollment.

King and Laurendeau don’t expect there to be a comparable increase in the number of enrollments in online classes in the future, but they believe the increase in online courses might help the university retain students.

“Access to education fundamentally kind of solves some of those problems,” Laurendeau said. “For any point where scheduling is an issue that prevents student retention, online can certainly alleviate that burden, even though I don’t think it could be the panacea of student retention.”