In a November 13, 2008 article on the Inside Higher Ed website, “As Economy Wavers, Online Enrollments Climb,” writer Andy Guess highlights the tremendous growth of enrollment in online education programs.

The article provides insight into the results of a report, “Staying the Course: Online Education in the United States, 2008,” prepared by the Sloan Consortium, an organization which tracks online learning trends. Summarizing the findings in the report, Guess makes the following observations:

In fall 2007, the study reports, some 3.94 million students enrolled in at least one online course, an increase of 12.9 percent over the previous year. That falls between the 9.7 percent growth for fall 2006 and the 19.7 compound annual rate since fall 2002. In comparison, total student enrollments increased 1.2 percent in the year leading up to last fall, while the compound annual rate for all enrollments since 2002 was 1.6 percent.

Clearly, with changing demographics, fluctuating gas prices and an unstable economy, people are looking to online education as a means of improving themselves while keeping their out-of-pocket costs low and their potential for success high.

I visited Wal-Mart on Friday, November 7 and was shocked to discover that even though Halloween just ended and we haven’t even yet overdosed on turkey, apparently it is already Christmas!

I actually went into two separate stores in Santa Clarita: the one at 25450 The Old Road near Stevenson Ranch and the one near Valencia at 27931 Kelly Johnson Parkway, just off of Copper Hill/Rye Canyon.

Both stores had associates setting up the Christmas displays and making related preparations.  Photos from each store are provided below — the first photo is from the store on Kelly Johnson Parkway and the second is from the store on The Old Road:

Wal-Mart 2008 Christmas Decorations

Wal-Mart Christmas Decorations 2008

Apparently, I am a bit late in realizing Wal-Mart’s early push: An October 1, 2008  story that aired on the CBS station in Los Angeles highlighted the retailer’s plans to get a head start on the Christmas shopping season.

I suppose I was more surprised than shocked to see Christmas trees already. The first week of November seems a bit early for Christmas, but I recall seeing Valentine’s Day items in my local Rite Aide just after Christmas last year. It seems every year the time betwen each major holiday shopping periods grows shorter as retailers try to capitalize on early-birds and those easily influenced by holiday “sales.”

Given the current state of the economy I am curious to see what happens this holiday season. Traditionally, the Friday after Thanksgiving is referred to as “Black Friday” by most retailers — meaning that on that day they finally transition from operating at a loss (in the red) to operating at a profit (in the black). Yet, given the tremendous economic upheaval and uncertainty going on, I wonder if this day will ever come for any retailer.

Still, there are reports of Wal-Mart experiencing a surge in sales, even as other retailers struggle.  Wal-Mart reported that same-store sales in October were up 2.4 percent as compared with October 2007, not including fuel sales. Including fuel sales the increase was 2.5 percent. Comparatively, Target reported sales of 0.7 percent lower for this October 2008 compared with 2007.

A Los Angeles news station even featured a segment in which a reporter interviewed shoppers at al-Mart demonstrated that even those who drive a Mercedes were driven to save money at the popular discounter. All were focused on saving money and getting the best possible deal.

I wonder how many people are getting coal in their stockings this year — assuming, of course, that coal is still affordable!

Frequently being on the road driving to and from the classes I teach gives me the opportunity to occasionally see some fairly odd things.

Most often I observe people with strange items in their trunks, on their cars or otherwise in-tow. I’ve learned to never underestimate the creativity (or, in some cases, stupidity) of people when it comes to their cars!

I decided to start documenting as many of these “moments” as possible and aptly title them under the heading of “Junk in Your Trunk.” I will randomly post images as I take them or discover images I took earlier that seem to fit the bill. I am also willing to post photos anyone else takes and sends my way — so feel free to “shoot and send!”

Car Engine on Highway 99 NorthThe photo to the left was taken on Wednesday, August 6, 2008 while I was driving north on highway 99 en route to Bakersfield (where I was teaching at DeVry University later that afternoon).

It is a bit hard to see, but there is a car engine in the trunk of the silver Honda Civic in the foreground! I am unsure why there is a car engine in the trunk, though I was certain it was not the engine powering the car, but there it is!

Note: Unfortunately, the camera in my Palm Centro is adequate, but not always ideal. However, you can click on the photo to see a larger, and slightly clearer, version of the photo.