While some college students enjoy the camaraderie of dorm life and the stimulation of classroom discussions, an increasing number like the...

While some college students enjoy the camaraderie of dorm life and the stimulation of classroom discussions, an increasing number like the option of earning credits from home, clad in their bathrobes.

The number of students nationwide taking online college courses skyrocketed nearly 40 percent from 2.3 million in 2004 to 3.2 million in 2005, according to a recent study by the nonprofit Sloan Consortium.

For-profit online universities market heavily to prospective students. What’s often less known is that state institutions offer an array of affordable, high-quality online courses. The two biggest state-based online programs are those of the University of Washington and Washington State University.

At the UW, more than 15 graduate-degree programs and 20 certificate programs are offered online, along with hundreds of for-credit and noncredit courses.

More than 8,000 students took online classes from the UW in the 2005-06 school year; with many regular UW classes tough to get into, increasing numbers of students are taking a course or two online to stay on track with their degrees, says Sam Smith, a member of the Washington State Higher Education Coordinating Board and former Washington State University president.

“Students are finding this is a very good way for them to get courses at the time they would like them,” Smith says.

At WSU, online education focuses on bachelor’s-degree completion, particularly for students who have an A.A. degree, says Muriel Oaks, dean of the Center for Distance and Professional Education. More than 5,000 students enroll online each semester in its seven undergraduate-degree completion programs — in social sciences, human development, humanities, criminal justice, business management/operations, business management/information systems and women’s studies.