A shift in state policy touched off a boom in online education at North Carolina State University. The transition has come to full fruition eleven years after North Carolina's legislature began funding state colleges based on student credit hours--meaning distance-education students, like their bricks-and-mortar peers, count as full-time students. Since then, Vice Provost Thomas K. Miller III has seen online education evolve from a fringe alternative to a favorite among students and professors.

In the late 1990s, distance learners were not seen as full-time students in the eyes of North Carolina lawmakers. That changed in 1998, when the state's education funding formula saw a dramatic shift that paved the...

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