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Alabama is home to 14 four-year public universities, 26 two-year community and technical colleges, and 15 non-profit independent institutions. The Alabama Commission on Higher Education oversees the state's higher education. It is responsible for the overall statewide planning and coordination of higher education in Alabama, the administration of various student aid programs, and more. One of the student aid programs it participates in, the Academic Common Market, is a cost-saving tool, allowing students to receive online degrees and in-state tuition at out-of-state institutions and online colleges. Through this program, Alabama residents can gain access to unique programs at out-of-state institutions and online college degree programs and pay only the in-state rates. Another distance learning initiative in the state is ACCESS, which launched in fall 2004 and strives to prepare students for the rigors of higher education by making Advanced Placement courses available for all Alabama public high school students, especially those in rural areas. According to ACCESS, in 2003, Alabama administered only 99 Advanced Placement exams per 1,000 juniors and seniors, ranking 14th out of 16 southern states. But since 2004, the number of Advanced Placement test takers in Alabama public schools has almost doubled.
Distance learning plays a key role in Alabama's institutions of higher education, as well. Several of its top colleges and universities provide students the opportunity to take online college courses and full degrees online at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Here's a look at just some of the online learning opportunities available through Alabama's biggest and most notable schools:
Founded in 1831, the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa is the state's first public college. It's also the flagship of the University of Alabama System, with more than 31,000 students enrolled. Over the years, notable alumni have included figures in the arts (authors Gay Talese and Mark Childress), sports (MFL Hall of Famer Joe Namath), and technology (Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia). The school's 2011 entering freshman class, at 5,772 students, was the largest in the school's history. The school is ranked among the top 50 national universities by U.S. News & World Report. Its online graduate business is also included among the best by the publication. Through the school's Bama By Distance online program, students earn take fully online degrees in business, as well as education, communication and information sciences, human environmental sciences, law, and nursing at the bachelor's and master's degree levels.
Troy University is among the best regional university in the South, according to U.S. News & World Report. It is the largest institution of higher education in the state, with nearly 30,000 students enrolled across four Alabama campuses, as well as its more than 60 teaching sites across the country and around the world. Its main campus is in Troy, with additional locations in Dothan, Montgomery, and Phenix City. It also offers students the opportunity to take some undergraduate and graduate classes and degrees online through eTroy in business, education and nursing, to name a few. In 2010, the school introduced its first doctoral degree ó a Doctor of Nursing Practice ó which is offered online.
Auburn University is one of the largest universities in Alabama, with more than 25,000 graduate and undergraduate students. It's also ranked among the best, with U.S. News & World Report including the school among the top 100 national universities in its 2012 rankings. Students can choose from 140 degree programs, several of which are offered online through its distance learning program. Here, students will find several undergraduate courses offered, as well as graduate degrees in agriculture, business, education, engineering, and human sciences. The Office of Professional and Continuing Education also provides non-credit education programs and conferences to promote professional development and personal enrichment. The school's 250,000-plus graduates include six NASA astronauts, the head of the Kennedy Space Center, the nation's first and only class of undergraduate wireless engineers, dozens of CEOs, world-famous architects, and several authors and journalists.