October 27, 2010 | | 1 Comment Student loan debt has ticked past $862 billion, according to FinAid, a college resource site. As tuition continues to rise for traditional colleges, more individuals are looking toward online programs to earn an degree. Online colleges now offer degrees and certificates in a number of fields for students who are looking for an alternative to pricey on-campus institutions. Programs that are internet-based also give working adults the opportunity to return to school and finish their education. Engineering, computer sciences and information technology (IT) are currently the most in-demand careers, according to the Wall Street Journal. Students who graduated with a degree in engineering earn an average of $56,000 upon their graduation from college, making it the most profitable degree to have in hand. Students who graduate with degrees from colleges of arts and sciences have a wide range of salaries. However, the newspaper notes that there is a definitive increase in salary over time for graduates who pursue careers in technical fields. The highest average salary for holders of a degree in arts and sciences is $42,000 for economics. Katy Piotrowski, a Colorado career counselor, tells the newspaper she sees individuals with degrees in liberal arts make between $60,000 and $70,000 each year. Graduates with technical degrees typically make $10,000 more than that number annually. “Technical degrees are valued in all fields,” Piotrowski told the newspaper. “I’ve a seen a communications department actually prefer that someone have an engineering degree rather than a communications degree.” Katharine Brooks, the director of liberal arts career services at The University of Texas at Austin, tells the newspaper that she believes the most profitable liberal arts graduates are the ones who return to school to earn a higher degree. Individuals who are looking to return to school to further their careers or enter more high-demand fields may benefit from enrolling in an online college. This option is typically more affordable than traditional schooling and offers similar credential-boosting benefits. Recently, Stevens-Henager College announced that it will make its IT program more accessible to distance learners by utilizing the internet. The school is now offering students the opportunity to earn their bachelor’s degree in computer science via online courses. Over the course of between Between 30 and 36 months, individuals can work toward a degree based on a schedule they design themselves. The flexibility of online courses allows students to work and maintain their current lifestyle. Completing the program can open up a number of opportunities for graduates to work in the field of network services, IT, programming and database management. Stevens-Henager College is just one of many online schools that are revolutionizing what it means to earn a higher education. Distance learning has grown in popularity, alongside the demand for careers in these fields, such as IT and computer programming. Approximately 90 percent of high-wage jobs created within the next decade will require some postsecondary education, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Computer networking jobs are projected to grow 30 percent over the next eight years, while engineering opportunities are expected to increase by 11 percent. As more working professionals look to advance their careers and salaries, online colleges are becoming more viable options. The affordability of online degree programs may begin to attract more undergraduate students in the near future as well.