The entrance to the campus of Stony Brook University is...

The entrance to the campus of Stony Brook University is seen in an undated image. Credit: Heather Walsh

The next shift in higher education is coming online.

Whether it be through full online programs or select courses offered as part of an on-campus degree, online learning is taking large steps toward becoming a mainstream approach to higher education.

Using a hybrid of online and in-person courses, Stony Brook University has begun offering more approaches to completing degrees. The university offers 70 winter courses online, and has announced plans to expand that selection for summer sessions.

Building on hybrid learning, the Georgia Institute of Technology announced that it will expand its online master’s programs and offer a degree in analytics for roughly $10,000 starting next fall. This builds on its massively successful online computer science master’s program which launched in 2014, and now currently enrolls nearly 3,400 people.

Georgia Tech’s program isn’t the first online master’s degree on the market, but it’s notable for wrapping affordability and prestige into one package. Georgia Tech’s comp sci program is often ranked in the top 10 in the country; the online degree is offered for $7,000, which is one-sixth of the cost of the in-person out-of-state program.

I recently completed my second online course through Stony Brook and found that taking a history class online allowed me to interact with students who are more likely to talk on a discussion board, than talk in a regular classroom.

During my online class, almost all of the students enrolled actively participated in online discussions, above and beyond what was required by the professor. The same cannot be said for my on-campus classes. Participation has long been a part of the grade scheme in many courses, but online participation is a new gateway to learning.

Along with increased participation, time becomes your ally in online learning. In a classroom setting, students may feel left behind or overwhelmed by class pacing, but online classes allow students to progress at their own pace. If you miss something during an online lecture, you can rewind and pause at your leisure.

Contrary to common beliefs, early results provide no data to suggest that accredited online degrees, like Georgia Tech’s, teach less than their in-person counterparts: Several Harvard economists, who studied GA Tech’s program, concluded students “finish their courses with at least as much knowledge as their in-person counterpart.”

The stigma against online programs arose from non-accredited, for-profit schools that shelled out degrees. Fortunately, as more schools offer accredited online degrees, the stigma has begun to falter.

Unfortunately for online learners, Georgia Tech may be an anomaly. Georgia Tech’s computer science program is very selective, and the online version doesn’t back down from those standards. In its first year, students needed an undergraduate grade point average of 3.2 to enroll, and not all those who applied were accepted. To date, nearly 11,000 people have applied to the program.

However, while in-person and online degrees usually are labeled separately, Georgia Tech’s online program doesn’t differentiate between the on-campus or online degrees.

First-time graduate school enrollment nationwide rose 3.5 percent in 2014, according to the Council of Graduate Schools. And with the growth of accredited online programs, that number is expected to rise. There are now more than 22,000 accredited degrees offered online, with roughly 100 schools now offering accredited online master’s and bachelor’s degree programs, according to The Guide to Online Schools.

With the introduction of prestige into the affordable online environment, online learning is taking a shift for the best. Whether it be fully online, or a hybrid degree, colleges and universities across the country are taking the necessary steps to provide for an increasingly online world.

Jager Robinson is an intern at Newsday Opinion.