Dr. Wayne Smutz remembers Penn State World Campus when it had only five programs and 41 students enrolled, just starting out in 1998.
Now Penn State's second-largest campus in terms of enrollment, Smutz, executive director and associate vice president for Academic Outreach, said the World Campus has beat its initial 'flash-in-a-pan' stigma and "is here to stay."
Penn State was a pioneer in online-only educations. One of the first of its kind, the World Campus has grown over a decade and a half to offer more than 90 programs on the undergraduate, graduate and professional level, according to Penn State Live.
"For 15 years, we've led the way in the online delivery of high-quality degrees from a high-quality institution," Smutz said. "This is accomplished by working in partnership with Penn State's academic colleges and faculty to offer programs to adult learners who may be balancing career, family and education."
World Campus students come from every state, the District of Columbia, three territories and 54 countries, according to Penn State.
A significant number of World Campus students are adult learners, Smutz said, though as the campus has grown its demographics have diversified. The World Campus has been successful in attracting students because administrators have taken the time to understand and overcome the hurdles to distance education.
Smutz said a common misconception of distance, online-only learning is that there is no connection established between instructor and student and between student and classmates. That is not the case with the World Campus, Smutz said, which has classes of between 25-30 students maximum and interaction between both students and instructors is built right into the course.
Online message boards for discussion, group projects and virtual office hours are just a few ways the World Campus has overcome the idea that online learning is a solitary event.
The trend will be upward for students flocking to online learning, Smutz said, in part because of the issue of college affordability. At some point, he said, it may 'level out,' and while there is always a place for face-to-face learning, online education offers everyone the chance to achieve their educational goal.
Per Penn State, World Campus efforts, such as its commitment to academic quality and student support services, have been widely recognized, including Top 25 rankings of several online degree programs by U.S. News & World Report and the Award for Excellence in Institution-Wide Online Education by the Sloan Consortium.
Learn more about the World Campus here.