December 31: Champagne Toasts, Auld Lang Syne, and the annual tradition of taking stock in your life and planning for the new year. Millions of New Years Resolutions will be made this week... what's yours? Lose weight? Get your financial house in order? Travel more? Many promise that this is the year that they stop making excuses and go back to school.

With the convenience of the internet, going back to school no longer means giving up 2 nights a week to sit in an uncomfortable chair for 3 hours listening to a lecture. 20% of adult students and close to 10% of all students in U.S. degree-granting programs are online rather than in a classroom. Learning online isn't a new concept - University of Phoenix established it's online campus in 1989. However, in recent years we have seen more and more private, top-tier universities enter the online space. The perception today is that you absolutely can receive a quality education online. According to a study cited in a report by The Secretary of Education's Commission on the Future of Higher Education, the majority of employers believe that online learning is equal or superior to the experience of learning in a classroom. Zapwater client Deltak edu partners with these top-tier traditional universities to market and support their online programs and since we started working with them we have learned about the opportunities available.

Are you looking to differentiate yourself in the business world? Here at Zapwater, we are most interested in cutting edge programs. Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia is meeting an industry demand by offering a fully online Master's in Business Intelligence. Business Intelligence is the science of how to use data to make effective business decisions. Business Intelligence may be a new, 'hot' degree program, but it is not a new concept. We see it when Amazon recommends products based on our previous purchases. We see it when Bill Belichick makes decisions about what players to sign and when to play them. We see it when Starbucks chooses the cross streets to open their next location. Employers are pounding down the doors of these MS-BI graduates and we believe the demand will only increase over the coming years.

Or we can look at what one school in upstate New York is doing about the increasing problems of Identity Theft and web security. Utica College is truly an industry leader with their Economic Crime Institute and Center for Identity Management and Information Protection. Utica offers online Bachelors, Masters, and Certificate programs in Cybersecurity, Economic Crime Investigation, and Fraud Management. Talk about a current issue - I assure you that when I was a Political Science major at Gettysburg College, they were not offering degrees in Cybersecurity!

Are you considering going back to school but you feel like you don't have the time? Consider Mark - a graduate of the online Master's in Organizational Leadership offered at Gonzaga University. Mark is a police officer in Orange County, California and was the first in his family to graduate from high school. After a few 'false starts' at different universities, he completed his undergraduate degree online and immediately started the Master's program at Gonzaga. Mark's schedule at work and family obligations with his 3 children prevented him from being able to attend a campus program. However, completing an online degree allowed him to complete his course work when his schedule allowed - which for Mark was from 3-6 am. He attended graduation in Spokane, WA this May with his wife, his 3 children, and his parents. Gonzaga also has many students in the military who are able to continue their education online even if they are deployed to the other side of the world. We have seen that it is a matter of commitment and finding the time in your busy schedule. (Hmm... that's what my personal trainer says too...)

Online degree offerings are not only offered in Business fields. Gonzaga and Loyola University New Orleans both offer Masters of Science in Nursing degrees for nurses looking to further their education. Even teachers can use the power of the internet to further their degree. Are you a teacher interested in Reading and Literacy? Locally, Benedictine University offers a fully online Masters in Education to help you reach your goal. Looking to learn more about using Technology in the classroom? Check out Saint Joseph's Master's in Instructional Technology. Not a teacher yet, but interested in going back to teach angst-ridden high schoolers? St. Joe's also offers a fully online Teacher Certification program.

As you raise a glass this Monday night and pretend like you know the correct lyrics to Auld Lang Syne, we encourage to make the resolution to go back to school in 2008. And if you are intrigued by one of the programs we mentioned, go to the website and call them to learn more about how the program can help you achieve your career goals. Tell them Zapwater sent you!

David M. Zapata