ATLANTA -- More than 60 percent of Georgians polled say they'd be willing to use the Internet or Georgia Public Television to take college courses, according to a University System of Georgia poll.
That's important because 40 percent of Georgians polled say they would be interested in attending a college or university during the next three years, and the baby boom echo could add 50,000 to 60,000 more students to the public system by the second half of the next decade.
"During the next 15 years, we will see an avalanche of new students," said Richard Skinner, president and chief executive officer of Georgia Global Learning Online for Business and Education, the system's online learning program. "I think we have to begin expanding capacity."
System officials say they hope to start that process beginning this summer by offering the core freshman- and sophomore-level courses for college students online through GLOBE to augment their traditional classes. By the next year, core courses will be online for juniors and seniors, meaning they can earn degrees.
Last year, about 1,700 students took courses online from their schools. System schools already offer a handful of specialized degrees online.
The aim of GLOBE is to offer degrees statewide in areas where the state has major shortages, such as information-technology specialists and special-education teachers.
Mr. Skinner told the University System Board of Regents on Tuesday that there are large, annual shortages in 19 fields that require college degrees, with information or computer technology jobs the most likely to go unfilled.
One state study estimated that newcomers to Georgia fill more than a third of the IT jobs available, and that another third go unfilled.
There also is a large shortfall in some business-degree fields, the study found.
"If these shortfalls are not addressed, they could hamper economic growth in Georgia," Mr. Skinner said.
The system launched GLOBE last spring in part to expand access for nontraditional, older students.
University System Chancellor Stephen Portch said he expects it to be used by students who fall behind or need a class or two to graduate and would rather take a class online.
Also, some students could be enticed who live far from college campuses or don't have the time to navigate Atlanta's mind-melting traffic.
About two-thirds of Georgians have access to the Internet at home, work or both, according to the GLOBE poll of 500 registered voters done by Atlanta-based Beth Shapiro and Associates.
"Over 75 percent of suburban residents and over 50 percent of rural and urban residents have access," Mr. Skinner added.
The poll suggested 55 percent of those questioned would use the Internet to take courses, and more than 60 percent said they would use the Internet or telecourses through Georgia Public Broadcasting.
About two-thirds said they would not be afraid to use the Internet to apply for admission or financial aid and to buy books, if they were assured it was safe for them to transmit personal financial data.
"I have badly underestimated the demand and interest in this," said Mr. Skinner, who has traveled the state in recent months to introduce GLOBE.
Many -- if not most -- of the students who say they want to take courses online eventually might go back to college classrooms. However, thousands of students throughout the region already are taking Internet offerings from the Southern Regional Electronic Campus put together by the Atlanta-based Southern Regional Education Board.
Dr. Portch said the system hasn't yet determined how much tuition the state will charge for the online classes.
The system is asking the General Assembly for $1.5 million next year to begin assembling the infrastructure for GLOBE.
The GLOBE Web address is www.georgiaglobe.org.
Reach James Salzer at (404) 589-8424.
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