The number of Americans taking at least one online course as grown from 1.6 million in 2002 to 6.1 million in 2010.

A recent survey illustrates the dramatic need for non-traditional college programs: Most college students today do not live on campus, go to school full-time, and have their tuition bills paid by their parents, according to Complete College America.

Instead, 75 percent of students juggle their classes with a family, a job, or a commute—and colleges and universities are responding to their needs by making more degrees available online.

Online classes are seen as a key to increasing the number of Americans with a college degree. Distance learning programs give adults the flexibility they need, which could help close the gap between the percentage of new jobs that will require a college degree by 2018 and the percentage of workers who currently have that credential, according to the Lumina Foundation.

“You can earn an entire degree without actually ever coming to a campus,” said Linda Lockhart, of Ohio University’s eLearning program.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has challenged the nation’s governors to raise the number of college degree holders in their state to 60 percent within eight years. That statistic would push the U.S. back toward being the first in the world for college graduates. It’s now 14th in overall degree attainment, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The number of online learners and the revenue it is generating are rapidly growing nationwide. More than 6.1 million students in the United States took at least one class online in 2010, up from 1.6 million in 2006, according to a report, “Going the Distance: Online Education in the United States.”

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