In a development that is reflective of a national trend during this tough economy, enrollment in distance-education courses through the University of North Carolina system shot up more than 20 percent in 2008, reports the News & Observer. The jump points in part to the desperation of out-of-work people looking to shift careers and make themselves more marketable. More than 22,000 UNC students stayed off campus entirely last year, taking courses either at satellite sites or over the internet. They are a relatively small but rapidly growing piece of the UNC system’s overall student pool, which topped 215,000 in 2008. The UNC system’s Board of Governors will review the trend Jan. 8 as part of an annual enrollment report. While many of these students are North Carolinians, others live around the country and beyond. They shop around, compare tuition rates, and look for specific programs that suit their needs. And several represent a growing population of mid-career professionals using distance education to better themselves. Of the UNC system’s 22,000 students who chose the distance-education route last year, more than 60 percent are 25 or older. Some want to change fields; others are out of work and desperate for new expertise…

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