If you are considering online degree programs, you have undoubtedly thought about where to put that degree to work after graduation. Before you start looking far and wide for the right employer, consider a growing field that may be closer than you think -- namely, online education.
Virtual schools as a growth industry
The data on online schools is compelling. According to The Sloan Consortium, an industrial and professional leadership organization in the field of online education, more than 6.1 million students took an online higher education course in the fall of 2010. That means fully one-third of higher education students have taken at least one class online.
Virtual education has been growing at the elementary and secondary levels as well. A 2008 survey conducted by The Sloan Consortium found 7 in 10 public school districts had at least one student enrolled in a fully online class. In the 2007-08 school year, it was estimated more than 1 million K-12 students were enrolled in online coursework.
More recently, a January 2012 report published by the National Education Policy Center found the growth in education management organizations, or EMOs -- private firms offering public education options -- was fueled largely by growth in virtual schools. Last year, 115,000 students served by for-profit EMOs were enrolled in virtual schools, ten times the number learning online in the 2003-04 school year.
Employment in online education
Virtual schools offer more than just opportunities for students to learn. They also represent a new avenue for job seekers looking for a growing industry. Online schools need an array of teachers, administrators and computer science specialists to ensure their online programs are comprehensive and easily accessible. Here are seven occupations that can put your online degree to work in the virtual classroom.
- Teachers: The most obvious job within the field of online education is that of a teacher. Just like in a regular classroom, teachers must have a bachelor's degree and meet their state's credentialing requirements. However, for many schools, job candidates with a master's degree in education are becoming preferred.
- School counselors: Online students may be learning from home, but that doesn't mean they are on their own when it comes to navigating their education. Virtual schools often employ guidance counselors who can offer assistance in identifying and meeting goals. School guidance counselors generally have a bachelor or master's degree in counseling and must meet any state licensure requirements.
- Directors: While traditional schools have principals and superintendents, EMOs generally employ directors, vice presidents and CEOs as their administrators. Some of these positions may require a teaching background while others rely on business expertise. To reach the upper levels of management in an EMO, a master's degree in business administration may be your best bet.
- Accountants and financial managers: Just like in other private businesses and non-profits, someone has to manage the books. Financial managers at online schools may have a bachelor's degree in economics, accounting or finance. Some may also have a master's degree or professional certification. Accountants may have a bachelor or master's degree in accounting. Another educational path worth considering is a master's degree in business administration with an accounting focus.
- Software engineers: Virtual schools are only as good as their online classrooms. Software engineers are among the tech professionals virtual schools rely upon to seamlessly deliver class lessons and coursework. Most software engineering jobs require a bachelor's degree, but some employers may prefer a master's degree in computer science or software engineering.
- Network and computer systems administrators: Once the software and system are created, network and systems administrators install and maintain them. These professionals can be among the most crucial component when it comes to ensuring that the day-to-day operations of virtual schools run smoothly. Network and computer systems administrators can be ready to work with just an associate degree although bachelor's degrees in management information systems and similar majors are also available.
- Public relations specialists: Finally, the growth in virtual schools likely wouldn't be possible without the work of public relations specialists who spread the news about the benefits of online learning. Individuals working in public relations often have a bachelor's degree in public relations, marketing or communications. A journalism degree can also be a good prelude to a career in public relations.
Virtual schools are a 21st century education option. As their number grows, so too does the need for qualified individuals who can create and administer online programs. Get your degree online and then turn around and put it to use in the growing online education industry.