Anne Byczkowski knows a thing or two about the hard-fought battle to get an education as an adult. Since she started working at age 18, she got her associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees by going to night school. "Having to travel to class after working a full day and worrying about traffic and getting there on time was very stressful," she says. "My undergraduate degree took me to five colleges — UMBC, Essex Community College, Catonsville Community College, Carroll Community College, and College of Notre Dame of Maryland — to complete over a fourteen-year span of night school."
Today, the 41-year-old Columbia resident works full-time in disaster recovery for the federal government and part-time as a consultant for the cooking tool company Pampered Chef. She has a stack of commitments to professional organizations and is raising her 14-year-old stepson with her domestic partner, Rich Lamberti. And on top of it all, she’s back in school—only this time, it looks a little different.
Byczkowski began work on a master’s degree in homeland security management at Towson University in 2007 and hopes to complete it by 2012. The degree is one of four that Towson offers completely online. An early riser, Byczkowski can go to school before going to work, although weekends are also prolific study times, as are evenings, after chores are finished at home. "[Online] is very flexible," she says. "If you’re up at 1 a.m. you can do work online instead of physically needing to be in a class at a certain time."
The economic crisis has inspired plenty of people to hit the books in hopes that a degree or professional certification will help them land or keep a job or improve their lot in the job they’re in. The flexible hours and open-ended timelines have made online learning increasingly popular. In 2009, 5.6 million students were enrolled in at least one online course. By 2010, that number had jumped by almost a million, according to Sloan-C, an online education consortium. The vast majority of those enrolled in online degree programs are what higher education experts call adult learners—anyone over age 24—who don’t have the time to commute to a campus or the ability to drop out of the workforce to go back to school full-time.
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