Ray Cross readily admits that for-profit online colleges grew rapidly because traditional universities missed the boat. They weren't flexible and affordable enough for adults who wanted to earn a degree, but couldn't sit in a classroom while juggling a full-time job, family or military duty.
For-profit colleges now enroll about 17,000 students in Wisconsin, according to Cross, chancellor for the University of Wisconsin Colleges and UW Extension.
"That would be our third largest campus" if all 17,000 could be captured by the UW System, said Cross, who is leading two new state initiatives to make earning a college degree more flexible and affordable. An online degree program announced last week is expected to offer courses by this fall.
Nationwide, more than 6 million students take at least one college course online, according to the 2011 Survey of Online Learning published by the Babson Survey Research Group with data from the College Board.