Today, most people will agree that some form of education and training is essential to attaining a better career and building a better life. In fact, a college degree is a requirement for many professions, especially those with high earning potential and plentiful opportunities for advancement. Yet a degree hasn’t always been equally available to every student or prospective student. Online learning features benefits that could give historically underrepresented students their best chance at earning a degree – but only if these students take advantage of online college opportunities.

The Benefits of Online Learning

What factors have kept historically underrepresented students from pursuing a college education? Sometimes there were barriers at the institutional level, restricting enrollment based on race, ethnicity or gender. Still other factors – like distance, affordability and the need to balance work or family priorities – linger, posing obstacles to even modern students.

Online learning offers flexibility to combat problems like distance and to work around busy schedules. Studying online can often save students money. While schools are no longer able to discriminate against enrolling minority students, these students may still face discrimination by peers or even instructors – but that discrimination may be far less likely in an online rather than face-to-face setting.

What the Statistics Show about Minority Students in Online College

Even with all of the benefits of earning a college degree online, there are fewer minority students enrolling in online college programs than traditional, on-campus programs, according to U.S. News & World Report. That distance was only a few percentage points as of October 2014 – a student body that included just 26.3 percent minority students at online colleges, compared to 29.5 percent at traditional schools. However, the difference is still statistically significant enough to make researchers wonder why. As of yet, few studies have probed the relationship between online education and minority students, leaving the reasons “unclear,” U.S. News & World Report stated.

While these numbers represent the overall enrollment of minority students in online college programs, they don’t convey how much minority enrollment varies from one school to the next. There are fully online colleges intended to serve historically underrepresented students, including online programs at historically black colleges and universities  and online college exclusively for women. When U.S. News & World Report ranked the 10 online bachelor’s programs with the highest percentages of minority students, 57 percent or more of enrolled students in each school identified as a minority group such as black, Hispanic or Asian.

At four of these schools (Peirce College in Philadelphia, Florida International University, North Carolina A&T State University and Monroe College in New York), minority students made up at least three-quarters of the student body. Seven of the 10 schools saw minority enrollment rates above two-thirds.

If you’re part of a group that has been historically underrepresented in higher education, online college can make a degree – and a better life – more attainable. With distance learning, the possibilities are endless.