kansas city star logoJune 12, 2007 - Grantham is only online, while Park University and Phoenix also have traditional classes.

You've seen the commercials and heard the sales pitches - get an online university degree while working full-time.

In the past five years, the Northland has become home to three online universities - Park University, University of Phoenix and Grantham University.

Joseph McGrath, executive vice President of Grantham University, said he decided to open a center in Kansas City because it seemed to have a young and vibrant workforce.

"We did concentric circles around the city that were 30 minutes around the city or 30 miles, and the one that captured the most 18-to 35-year-olds with at least one year of college was at I-29 and (Missouri) 152," he said.

The importance of the concentric circles, McGrath said, is to find an educated workforce to fill job openings at Grantham University, which is strictly an online campus. After Hurricane Katrina battered its headquarters in Louisiana, the university decided to expand its Kansas City location from 8,000 square feet to 35,000 square feet at Zona Rosa at Interstate 29 and Barry Road.

Brian Messer, campus director for University of Phoenix, said school officials chose to erect a campus in the Northland based on commuter times because some students might decide they would rather attend classes in person versus online.

"The education model is built around convenience," Messer said. "We're near a freeway. We don't want students to take 20 to 30 minutes to get to a freeway, then another 20 ro 30 minutes getting a parking space."

Also, the Northland is growing rapidly, Messer said.

"It's for people who want to further their education, but they are not able to put their life on hold to go to a traditional campus," he said. "They traditionally work full-time ... they either live up there or they work up there."

University of Phoenix is near Kansas City International Airport at 10150 N. W. Ambassador Drive in Kansas City.

Tom Peterman, vice president of long distance learning for Park University, said the institution was established din 1875 and said its online classes began in 1996. Because online classes are virtual, it makes little difference that the three online universities are based in the Northland, he said.

Peterman said most Park University students take a mix of online and traditional classes, and roughly 10 percent are solely online students.

"But we reached the point where we're generating more credit hours online than face-to-face," he said. "We're seeing a growth online because of convenience. The nontraditional students have a different set of needs."

Park University is at 8700 N.W. River Park Drive in Parkville.

Educators said the nontraditional student is more apt to take online classes. They tend to be older and often hold a full-time job.

All three universities agree that online students are a growing segment. Often, the students are realizing they need additional education to qualify for a job promotion or even a job transfer. For example, some police departments require officers to obtain a college degree before they can be promoted to sergeant.

"There is a significant emphasis on lifelong learning and training," Peterman said.

Online undergraduate classes at University of Phoenix are typically five weeks long while online classes at Grantham and Park universities are about eight weeks long.

The brevity of the class should not be confused with "lack of academic rigor," Messer said.

College officials predict that online courses will rapidly grow.

McGrath said Grantham's student population has grown from 10 percent to 30 percent each year for the past five years, totaling 10,000 students worldwide. Peterman estimated that Park University has roughly 50,000 online enrollments nationwide and about 45,000 attending traditional classes.

Enrollment figures from the University of Phoenix were not available.

The stats:
Park University
50,000 online students nationwide
45,000 traditional students
Web site: www.park.edu
Phone: 816-741-2000 or 800-745-7275

Grantham University
10,000 students worldwide
Web site: www.grantham.edu
Phone: 816-595-5759

University of Phoenix
Enrollment numbers unavailable
Web site: www.phoenix.edu
Phone: 816-943-9600