St. Mary’s University in Minnesota is bridging the gap between coursework and the job market by tailoring its graduate programs for the iPad.

Heather Kolupailo wouldn’t be attending graduate school if it weren’t for her iPad.

The 27-year-old St. Paul, Minn., resident is a recruiter for Adecco, a job that involves travel and some long hours, making attending regular classes difficult.

Now, thanks to three St. Mary’s University graduate degree programs redesigned to be completed entirely on the Apple tablet, Kolupailo can earn her master’s degree in human resources management without setting foot on campus. She is one of 200 students around the globe enrolled in programs the university launched last spring.

“That was one of the most important factors for me, because of my job,” Kolupailo said. She enjoys the freedom of working on her schedule as opposed to spending a weekend day in class. “It’s better than having a sixth work day.”

The number of students from kindergarten to college taking classes online has skyrocketed. In 2010, more than 6 million attended online college classes, up from 1.6 million in 2002, according to a study by the Sloan Consortium, a nonprofit advocate for online education.

Many of those programs are traditional courses repurposed for the web by recording lectures or putting study materials online. Others are “blended” classes that include class time and online work.

Marcel Dumestre, vice president of graduate and professional programs at St. Mary’s, taught these types of online courses. Although he thought they were effective, he wanted to do something different: a complete experience in which students from around the world could study and interact anywhere, anytime.

(Next page: How the courses have been designed specifically for the iPad)