Students can find more online college classes available nowadays than ever, as the number of online degree programs continue to soar. Determining which scholarships and grants are applicable in your educational pursuits means finding the money to help pay for an online education.

Browse through college catalogs for the fall 2010 semester or surf the web sites of virtual and traditional institutions of higher education. Long popular online degree programs in business, nursing, information technology and criminal justice are now accompanied by education offerings tailored to those pursuing degrees in philosophy, history, African-American studies, the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects and more. Where Southern California recently saw an increase in online degree programs at the associate degree level, a single university in Memphis added 18 new bachelor and master’s degree programs to its existing 22 for the coming fall semester, according to reports.

Scholars have suggested the online education boon could in part be the result of a historically large 2009 high school class and physical settings that can’t accommodate a growing student population. In “32 Trends Affecting Distance Education,” representatives of two universities cited National Center for Education statistics forecasting that online college enrollment would grow 16 percent between 2003 and 2010. If you need more information about pell grants for college, look on the internet.

The information was based on high school information alone. Adults, including rising numbers of women and minorities, make up a large segment of distance learners. While the number of 18 to 24-year-old students increased by 41 percent between 1970 and 2000, the number of adult students rose 170 percent during this time, according to “32 Trends”. Online education these days reportedly costs about the same as a traditional campus setting. And while more students apparently shop for online classes and degree programs that best suit their schedules, they can also shop for online grant, scholarship and fellowship opportunities to help offset the cost. These types of grant applications include the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as well as scholarships and fellowships offered by large companies, non-profit organizations, civic groups and more.

The education market has shifted dramatically from traditional classroom and lecture-room education to online education, a Marketwire news release reported in March. It’s gotten to the point, in fact, where distance learning is growing much faster than higher education overall, according to a March San Diego Business Journal report. More than 4.6 million students were enrolled in least one online course during the fall 2008 semester, representing a 17 percent increase over fall 2007 enrollments, the Business Journal reported, citing a 2009 Sloan Consortium survey. The higher education student population as a whole, on the other hand, rose by only 1.2 percent over these same two periods, according to the survey information provided.

Online education can be provided by completely virtual colleges or by traditional institutions offering online classes and degree programs. In some instances, distance learning offerings contribute to more than 60 percent of a traditional for-profit college’s revenues, the Marketwire release reported. The number of students enrolled in online education programs offered by a Memphis institution jumped by nearly 50 percent in one year, according to an area newspaper known as the Commercial Appeal. Because online college registration areas fill up quickly, keeping up with the demand has been a challenge, one college representative reportedly told the San Diego Business Journal. There is an abundance of information about scholarships online on the web.

For-profit higher education institutions were considered the fastest growing online education segment when the “32 Trends” report was written. And the report anticipated that the number of degree-granting institutions will continue to rise into 2020, while the number of traditional campuses declines. An Information Age work force during this time is expected to require continued retraining and “retooling” as well accelerated online degree programs, the report forecasted.

Distance educators at the time of “32 Trends” were exploring the ways that technologies such as wireless laptops, personal digital assistants (PDAs), videoconferencing, virtual reality, gaming environments and video streaming enhance distance learning. Looking ahead, the report forecasted that college accreditation and program approval is going to change, becoming more outcome-based and, by 2025, without one national accreditation system. Governments, testing companies and others, the report noted, would put testing programs into place, and large corporations would develop their own approval systems. To accommodate the accountability emphasis, distance educators should plan ahead to maintain accreditation and meet consumer demands, “32 Trends” suggested. Online education is going to evolve to focus on the student as consumer as well as on flexibility and global reach, according to the report.

Those wishing to participate in distance classes will find the same types of scholarships and grants available as those attending campus-based institutions. Determining which college loans you qualify for may bring the exciting news that your college education is nearer than you thought.