The demand for high quality and career-advancement-oriented online courses and programs at the community college level remains strong, especially during this still-stormy economic climate, when the adult education market continues to seek out flexible online programs that allow them to stay on their jobs while simultaneously working towards the completion of a degree or certificate. However, community colleges face numerous challenges concerning their ability and bandwidth capacity to provide enough online degree and certificate programs to meet the demand coming from prospective and currently enrolled students.

The Instructional Technology Council (ITC) – an affiliate of the American Association of Community Colleges that represents institutions that offer online education courses and programs – conducts an annual survey about online education at community colleges. In its most recently published 2011 survey report, ITC noted that many community colleges rely on their online programs as the primary source for student enrollment growth. However, many of these same colleges are unable to offer enough courses to meet students’ requests for online education. In its 2010 survey report, ITC listed two of the greatest challenges that community colleges face in their desire to offer more online education courses and programs: faculty workload issues and finding and training qualified faculty to teach online.

Despite the challenges they face in the online education arena, there are a good number of successful online community college programs from across the nation that can easily be considered innovative, modern, and entirely geared toward granting a credential that can lead to a decent job.

Below is a short list of seven such programs (in alphabetical order by institution):

Bismarck State College: Located in Bismarck, North Dakota, BSC is a community college well known for its Energy Technology degree and certificate programs, including those related to electric and nuclear power as well as petroleum production technology, power plants, renewable generation technology, and more.  All of these online programs address critical employment needs in their respective fields.

Darton College: Located in Albany, Georgia, Darton offers an online two-year degree in Histolic Technology. According to Careers in Pathology and Medical Laboratory Science, an associate degree in this field is a strong investment, with “more jobs for histotechnologists and histotechnicans than educated people to fill those jobs. The future long-term employment looks bright. The needs are great everywhere throughout the country.”

Kirkwood Community College: This Cedar Rapids, Iowa college has a one-year or two-year online Water Environmental Technology program. As noted on the KCC website, “graduates of this program work in municipal water and wastewater treatment plants and the collection systems and distribution systems that serve them. They become certified in one of four grade levels depending on the size of the community served and the complexity of the treatment.”

Ivy Tech Community College: Ivy Tech is the nation’s largest state-wide community college with single accreditation, comprised of 30 campuses in Indiana (main campus is in Indianapolis) and serving 200,000 students each year. The Ivy Tech Online department offers a Manufacturing Production and Operations  program “designed to develop the skills and knowledge of modern manufacturing processes and technologies needed to be successful in today’s advanced manufacturing organizations.”

Owens Community College: Located in Toledo, Ohio, this college’s “eOwens” department offers a one-of-a-kind AAS in Cancer Information Management.  In addition to their fully online coursework, second-year students, as part of this degree program, must participate in a 160-hour, non-paid clinical application course in an approved cancer registry program.

Penn State World Campus: The online campus of Penn State, based in University Park, is well established and offers a good number of associate degrees and undergraduate certificates in a fully online modality, including an AS in Turfgrass Science and Management. The program was created for golf course and sports field professionals. Students can earn credits while working toward advancement in a variety of areas, including: construction specialist, golf superintendent/athletic field manager, irrigation specialist, and landscape/grounds manager or foreman.

Wayne Community College:  WCC in Goldsboro, North Carolina, offers an online associate degree or certificate in Emergency Preparedness Technology.  As noted on the WCC website, employment opportunities in this particular field “exist at the local, state, and federal levels, including positions with educational institutions, county and state emergency management offices, private insurance companies, law enforcement, fire service, and emergency medical services just to name a few.”

At a time when everyone seems to be pushing hard for increasing degree and credential completion in order to sustain the growth and strength of America’s workforce, these programs look like winners, not only because they are offered in a flexible online learning modality, but also because they are in fields where the demand is high for new employees.

A web portal that links to online community college online degree and certificate programs from across the country is located at