Distance Education | Back To School From Home

You No Longer Need To Go To College–A College Will Come To You!

Do you want to go back to school but live too far away from a good college to really consider it? If this sounds like you, you should consider distance education. While distance education was once considered a fringe activity by most traditional colleges and universities in the United States, that is no longer the case. Now some very established colleges offer outreach programs allowing ruralites of all ages to earn a college degree. With distance education, you can continue to enjoy the small town life you love, but still get the big city education and paycheck you want.

There is a reason why things have changed so dramatically in regards to distance education in recent years. For one thing, it seems that many institutions of higher education did not prepare too well for the end of the Baby Boomer generation and the loss of their heavy enrollment numbers. When the supply of high school graduates dried up, so did the money and funding for many once successful colleges and universities. Hundreds of colleges, some long-established, were forced to close their doors for good due to low enrollment levels. Many of these schools refused to accommodate those students in search of distance education programs. On the other hand, the schools that updated their curriculum, offering programs for adult students with family and work obligations, eventually prospered. Fortunately, many more colleges have now followed suit.

Rural Accountant Earns M.B.A.

About five years ago, Tracy Smith left the big city to take an accounting job with Homer Electric in Homer, Alaska. Tracy’s biggest qualm about moving to Homer, a small town with a population of only about 5,000 residents, was with giving up the chance to continue her education. As she admits, however, “It was a great job offer and I just couldn’t turn it down.” Was her chance to continue her education gone forever?

Off and on, Tracy continued to think about advancing her education. While she earnestly wanted to return to college, she found out that the nearest program was available in Anchorage.

“Realistically,” Tracy remembers, “It was either give up the idea of an advanced degree or give up the job.” Or so she thought. She recalls receiving an unexpected phone call one morning from her father, who lived in Colorado, where Tracy grew up. “He told me about this distance-based M.B.A. program worked out between Colorado State University and Mind Extension University.” Suddenly Tracy’s dream of returning back to school was finally turning into a reality!

MEU Cable was not yet available in Homer, so Tracy instead completed two videotape courses per semester. The university selected a proctor to administer exams for Tracy right in Homer. Tracy submitted her papers and assignments by mail or fax to the on-campus instructor. Student-teacher conferences were occasionally held by telephone.

“Actually,” Smith admits, “I talked to the professor far more often in this supposed ‘distance’ program than I ever did in campus-based classes.”

Pushing herself to complete her education on the fast track, Tracy graduated in just two years. As she herself admits, completing the program so quickly “was pushing it.” Most students take two and a half years or more to complete the M.B.A. program.

Tracy most appreciated that Colorado State’s distance M.B.A. program (offered through MEU) was virtually identical to an on-campus program. As she explains, “I ‘attended’ the on-campus classes by satellite. I wrote the same papers and sat for the same exams. I know I can feel good about my degree and be proud of my accomplishment.” Tracy was so proud of her M.B.A. that she flew out to Colorado to attend the 1992 graduation ceremonies at Colorado State University.

Would she do it again? “Within a second!” Tracy exclaims without hesitation. “The experience changed my life. Not only did I learn an incredible amount, but I also gained confidence in myself and my abilities.” Best of all, Tracy has since been promoted in recognition of her accomplishment and increased education.

While Tracy is equally enthusiastic about recommending distance education programs to others, she does harbor one reservation. “You need self-discipline,” Tracy warns, “You have to want this enough to come home from a full day’s work and say to yourself: ‘All right! Now I get to go to school!’ because those tapes will sit in a corner for as long as you want.” In retrospect, Tracy ultimately realized that self-determination is an essential part of the curriculum in any distance education program.

Rural Schoolteacher Completes Master’s Degree

Susan Lerner is an elementary school teacher at the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation in Northern California. Like Tracy Smith, Susan also dreamed about continuing her education. When she started thinking about going back to school to receive her Master’s degree, Susan first turned to Humboldt State University. Unfortunately, the school didn’t offer the program she really wanted: a graduate degree in educational technology. Luckily, after some negotiation, H.S.U. finally agreed to let Susan formulate a special program combining their offerings with individualized study.

While she was happy that she would be able to study there, H.S.U. wasn’t exactly offering the ideal program for Susan. As she puts it, “It meant going over a mountain pass in the middle of winter–it still wasn’t really what I wanted.” While Susan was less than enthusiastic, she was still optimistic. “When you live 10 miles outside of Willow Creek, there’s nowhere else to go,” she reasoned practically.

Planning to pursue her education at H.S.U., Susan Lerner received a one year leave of absence from her school district to pursue her Master’s degree. Shortly before beginning her studies, however, Susan’s special degree proposal suddenly fell victim to an H.S.U. budget cut. She now had a year of educational leave, but no way to use it!

Still wondering if her dreams of completing her education would ever come true, Susan came across a brief advertisment for Mind Extension University on television. Her interest in the school was immediately sparked. After making a few inquiries at MEU, Susan learned that George Washington University (in affiliation with ME/U) was starting up a Master of Arts in Education and Human Development with a specialty in Educational Technology Leadership. This was the program she wanted to enroll in all along!

“It was exactly what I wanted,” Susan remembers happily. “The George Washington University has an excellent reputation. For what more could you ask?”

Susan took part in classes from home via satellite television, but submitted assignments online. She was able to interact with instructors and her fellow students through an electronic bulletin board.

“Some classes were prerecorded,” says Lerner, “but many were broadcast live. You could call in with questions and comments just as if you were right there in the classroom.”

Over time, the Educational Technology Leadership program grew from a handful of students to thirty, then doubled and redoubled. Lerner and a few other select graduates were hired as part-time adjunct faculty to help manage the increasing volume of assignments, questions, and electronic mail sent by students just like her.

Even though Susan fondly remembers her program and thinks it was the best choice for her, she isn’t sure that distance education is for everyone. Remembering students she met who missed the social aspect of college, Susan realized that some students need the pressure of daily assignments and roll calls offered by a traditional university. “You really have to be independent and self-motivated,” Lerner warns. She has some advice for those who need an extra push to finish their independent study programs. “I encourage some students to work out a buddy system with someone, to help keep them on track.”

If time or distance has been keeping you from considering a graduate school, think about Tracy Smith and Susan Lerner. Like them, you can pursue a graduate school education without even leaving your own back porch, and might find a new and improved career in the process. These days, you truly can go back to school from home.

Computer Commuter Colleges

Every day, more and more busy students are trading-in commuter college for computer college. Most students don’t realize that a complete “online college” is only as far away as the nearest computer, modem, and phone line! Classes run 24 hours a day and begin whenever you log on.

Here are a couple of great online colleges you should learn more about if you are considering a distance education:

University of Phoenix offers a B.S. program in Business Administration and a B.A. program in Management. These “degree completion programs” require applicants to transfer credits and significant work experience into the program. University of Phoenix also offers a general M.B.A. and a specialized M.B.A. in Technology Management, both online.

City University is a pioneer in alternative education, offering Associate, Bachelor’s, and Masters degrees through independent study.

If you have a good story–like Susan Lerner, Tracy Smith or Diane–illustrating the value of distance learning, please contact us and tell us about it.