As college affordability continues to be a hot topic, and as student debt reaches $1 trillion and passes America’s entire credit card debt, more students looking to earn a degree are seeing online higher education has an increasingly inviting option. Colleges and universities around the country have been adding programs and classes to their online rosters, opening university doors to many students who don’t have the time or flexibility to commit to a traditional class schedule, writes Amy McConnell Schaarsmith at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. And a new study by the Babson Survey Research Group from Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts has found that now more than 6 million students were taking at least one online course. Total enrollment for online programs has ballooned at the California University of Pennsylvania, increasing from 300 students in graduate programs in 2005 to about 2,000 undergraduate and graduate students in 2012. The university’s total student body is about 10,000, Millie Rodriguez, executive director of the school’s Office of Web-Based Programs. Professors at Cal U are expected to teach to the same standards as face to face instruction, with weekly assignments, readings, lectures, class discussions and even group projects. Rodriguez said: “A lot of students don’t have an opportunity to quit working to earn their degree. “This way, they can earn their degree after they’re done working and having dinner and playing with their kids and putting their kids to bed — as long as you have access to the Internet, you can take our programs online.” The SR Education Group’s Guide to Online Schools ranked Cal U as having the No. 1 program in the nation for 2012 for its online degree and certification programs. But while the specific university is recording positive results, it’s on the crest of a nationwide wave. The growth in online enrollment has been larger than that for the total higher education student population in every year since 2003 when Babson began the annual reports, officials say. In the report, researchers also saw academics coming round to the idea of online education with 57 percent of academic leaders rating online education as the same or better, while 67 percent gave online education a thumbs-up in the most recent survey.