According to the Survey of Earned Doctorates, as of 2004 there was a 3.4 percent increase in doctorate degrees awarded in the United States. In June, 2004, a total of 41,155 research doctorate degrees were earned by postgraduate students. The recent increase in doctorate degrees awarded after a decade of decline can be partially attributed to the convenience of distance learning postgraduate online education degrees.Postgraduate degree programs offer students an opportunity to explore a subject to attain the highest levels of proficiency in that area of study. Courses can be based upon a curriculum or independent study and research. A recent study released by both Penn State University Outreach Marketing and Communications and University Continuing Education Association revealed that distance learning is anticipated to grow ten times quicker than on-campus education over the next ten years. Further, about 45 percent of college enrollment are adult students who frequently prefer distance learning opportunities to classes on campus. Sun Chairman Scott McNealy states, “Technology has to play a huge role in education. (It’s) changed commerce…publishing…banking. It’s got to change education big time.”Distance learning postgraduate online education degrees afford busy students the opportunity to earn doctorate degrees at their convenience, without having travel to and attend traditional classes. By the time students intend to pursue distance learning postgraduate online education degrees, they are usually computer literate, self-motivated and able to manage their time properly. These are all essential elements to success in virtual classrooms. The two basic types of postgraduate degrees students may earn are professional doctorates or research doctorates.Professional doctorates. The United States requires terminal professional doctorate degrees to perform in certain fields, such as dentistry, medicine, law, chiropractics, occupational therapy and psychology. Prior to entering these professional doctorate programs, students are required to complete a bachelors degree, preferably in a related field. Professional doctorate degrees, such as J.D. and M.D., usually do not require students to complete a thesis, although some do require an original research paper to be submitted. Doctorate degrees usually take three years to complete after postsecondary education, although distance learning postgraduate online education degrees may be earned more quickly. Because online education courses are often geared for the busy adult learner, students can progress at their own pace.Research doctorates. The research doctorate that is most commonly earned is a Ph.D. The time is takes to complete research doctorate degree programs can vary quite a bit, depending on course pursued. It is common for students to take two to three years to complete coursework and three or more years to conduct pertinent research. The benefit of a Ph.D. is that a holder is qualified to pursue an academic career as an expert in their field. Distance learning research doctorate degrees are conveniently pursued online and can be easily worked around professional schedules.Honorary doctorates. These degrees may be awarded for substantial contributions to a field and are not necessarily academic.Financial Aid. Federal financial aid and loan programs may be applied to distance learning postgraduate online education degrees. Employers may offer tuition reimbursement for coursework. Private loans may also be secured to pay for higher education. Students have several options available that can help them finance their doctorates.Thesis. Some postgraduate doctorate degrees require students to write a thesis. The learner defines their own area of research and takes years to write a detailed paper, which may be made available as pertinent information to other students in the field.Coursework. Distance learning postgraduate online education degree programs offer students ongoing guidance through coursework, email, virtual lectures and online discussions. Students are, however, expected to work independently and use a variety of research resources to complete their course requirements.Online Students. A recent national study entitled Degrees of Opportunity revealed some interesting facts about online students. Eighty-nine percent of those surveyed felt that the benefits derived from higher education are equal to or even greater than the money, time and effort involved. Lyungai Mbilinyi, Ph.D and author of this report, stated, “Eighty-one percent associated higher education with a sense of personal accomplishment and seventy-eight percent believed education would better develop their talents or pursue their interests. Despite the assortment of obstacles many adults face when considering a return to school, the overwhelming majority believe the resulting benefits have made it worthwhile.” Finally, eighty-four percent of enrollments in higher education programs are non-traditional students such as distance learners and adults with jobs. Students who participate in distance learning postgraduate online degree programs are not only seeking better positions, but the increased knowledge and self-esteem that comes with an advanced education.The study “Growing by Degrees: Online Education in the United States, 2005″ found that full distance learning postgraduate online education degree programs were offered by 38 percent of schools. The popularity of postgraduate online degree programs makes it clear they are a viable way to earn higher education and improve career options.