(TNS) -- A decade ago, just as online college courses were beginning to take off, 74 percent of College of Central Florida students sat in class in front of instructor.
Today, 69 percent of CF students are taking at least one online course (a few using cellphones) and 36.8 percent are taking most of their courses online.
"That is a higher percentage than many of the state's universities,” CF President Jim Henningsen said
Instead of in-person night classes, many students opt to go home after work, eat dinner with the family and then hit the virtual books.
“Our online seat count has increased by 418 percent in the last 10 years, from 3,174 in the 2005-06 academic year to 16,436 in the 2014-15 academic year,” said Tammi Viviano-Broderick, CF's dean of E-Learning and Learning Resources.
Viviano-Broderick said CF's hybrid seat count — students taking a course that is partially online and in person — has increased from 330 in the 2005-06 to 4,722 in the 2014-15.
Overall, CF officials said, 26 percent of all students took at least one online or hybrid course (23.2 percent online; 2.8 percent hybrid) in 2005-06. That number jumped to 68.6 percent (60.9 percent online and 7.7 percent hybrid) in 2014-15.
And last fall, 166 of CF's 334 faculty members taught at least one online or hybrid course in Marion, Citrus or Levy counties.
Lisa Dickens, director of the Highlands Baptist Learning Center, is taking online courses to get her bachelor's degree in early childhood education. Highlands is one of many private voluntary pre-kindergarten (VPK) centers in Marion County.
The state Legislature passed a law last year that requires directors at early learning centers to have bachelor's degree and teachers to have associate's degree by 2020.
During a recent interview at the center, 3530 SE Fort King St., Dickens said it would have been difficult to accomplish the goal without online classes.
Dickens, 43, lives in Fort McCoy and has teenagers. Working a full-time job, going to school and raising a family would be practically impossible.
“I get home to have dinner with the family,” Dickens said. “We still believe in sitting down together at the dinner table every night.”
Crystal Bratcher, a VPK teacher at Highlands, is enrolled in a CF's online early childhood education program. She is trying to get her associate's degree.
Bratcher, 35, who has younger children at home, works from 7:15 a.m. to noon and then takes her online courses. She said being able to take online courses “makes a big difference” in balancing a family life.
Viviano-Broderick noted that success rates of e-learning students versus traditional classroom students is equitable. In 2014-15, the pass rates differed by less than 1 percentage point: The traditional face-to-face pass rate was 82.8 percent in 2014-15, while the e-learning pass rate was 81.9 percent.
CF's general AA degree became available to students entirely online in November 1998, one of the first in the state. CF also offers seven certificates that can be taken all online.
Josh Strigle, CF's director of e-learning and the Learning Support Center, noted that today's students have taken the online courses to the next level by taking them entirely on smartphones.
Henningsen noted that CF wants to do more. But “that takes money,” he said. “And we haven't been getting the (capital) dollars that we really need to upgrade.”
©2016 the Ocala Star-Banner (Ocala, Fla.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.