According to a recent research report by the US Department of Education, over 25% of college students took at least one of their courses online in 2012. Of the US’s 21.1 million enrolled college students, 2.6 million took classes exclusively online. This follows 2.8 million who took one or more classes online.

The survey, conducted by the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, is the first time this data has been collected on this particular topic. It also found that, by far, for-profit colleges had the largest percentage of students taking online courses. Over 60% of students pursuing a 4-year degree from for-profit schools took all their classes online.

An attractive aspect of online courses is their flexibility to those who work full or part time occupations, as well as how they remove geographic barriers to education. Because of this, Moody’s Investor Service has stated they find online courses to be a ‘credit positive’ for the higher education industry.

The New York-based Moody’s said in a statement: “Although educational outcomes for online education are closely scrutinized, advancements in technology, online curriculum, and quality controls have made online education a more accepted and marketable tool for educational delivery.”

Last week, Starbucks announced online college education for 135,000 of its US employees. In a discounted program developed with Arizona State University, employees across the country are offered the chance to earn their degree with online courses. This again demonstrates how an online course can be offered to any individual anywhere, but also how even large businesses are accepting the legitimacy and importance of online classes and degrees.

With more companies taking a look at such programs for their own employees set by Starbucks’ example, it is clearly a place where public and non-profit universities can grow their bottom line.

Have you taken online classes in your higher education? How do you feel about Moody’s assessment that this is a ‘credit positive’ industry? Would you agree or disagree? Leave a comment below.