More and more schools start offering online courses

By Kim Norvell St. Joseph News-Press

Evidence of a growing nationwide trend can be found in this region, where two universities are embracing the online model of education. At Northwest Missouri State University, 19 percent of its students were taking courses online in 2012, whether that was a handful for general studies, or obtaining entire graduate degrees without ever setting foot in a classroom. Here in St. Joseph, there are 1,856 Missouri Western State University students taking online courses this fall, with 282 of those students attending solely online.


For 26-year-old Tabatha Peterson, the choice to attend classes online was spurred by her fourth child, who suffered major health problems when she was born in January 2009. Eight months later, Ms. Peterson enrolled herself in Health Information Systems at Missouri Western State University, an undergraduate program offered solely online, with a few exceptions for their hands-on clinicals.

"She was a really happy baby, but she had every reason to not be happy," Ms. Peterson said. "She didn't make excuses, and I needed to quit making excuses and give them a better life."

A mother of five, Ms. Peterson will graduate in May 2014 with a degree she was able to obtain from her home in King City, Mo., after her husband came home from work and the children had gone to bed. Her degree will allow her to work a set schedule, with evenings and weekends off.

For 32-year-old Amanda Lowe, the convenience of online coursework allowed her to obtain her second master's degree from her home in Rolla, Mo. She will graduate in December from Northwest Missouri State University with a Master's in Geographic Information Science.

Ms. Lowe never set foot in Maryville during her tenure at the university, attending classes solely on line. She even defended her thesis via web teleconference - all while working full time at the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. The advancement in her degrees allowed her to land a job with the United States Geological Survey.

"I definitely think that for a person who's working full time, the online program was hugely beneficial because I could work it into my schedule," she said.


Both universities provide a variety of options for online coursework, and have found most students complete a "hybrid" mix of face-to-face and online classes before graduation.

Dr. Greg Haddock, vice provost and dean of the graduate school at Northwest, said the university first began offering a handful of general studies in 1999, with the first full graduate degree - Geographic Information Science - in 2003.

The university now offers eight graduate degree programs online, and has found it's those students who prefer to study on their own time, Dr. Haddock said. There's also plenty of international students who complete that coursework without coming to the U.S.

But there are those undergraduate students who find the need to take online courses, maybe because they're working or have been called to active duty overseas. The university offers one undergrad program online, the Bachelor of Science in Business Management, as well as a handful of general education courses.

"Even for active service members, the online model is definitely a good fit," Dr. Haddock said.


At Missouri Western State University, the program has grown exponentially over the four years that Dr. Gordon Mapley has been dean and executive director of the Western Institute. When he first arrived in St. Joseph, there were 30 courses offered on line; today there are 226.

Most classes at Western are offered as general education, taken as part of a hybrid system. However, there are two undergraduate programs offered fully online, as well as one graduate program.

This fall, the university began Back to Western, to encourage past students to complete their degrees. Those courses also are offered fully online, as they're targeting adult full-time workers who already have college credits.

The main goal is to graduate them with a minor in business and a minor in psychology in order to receive a Bachelor of General Studies. There currently are nine students in that program.

"I think we see the value of face to face," Dr. Mapley said. "Most of the faculty, in their heart of hearts, prefer face to face. But we also understand that for people to get to where they need to go, more and more they need to have it online."

According to Babson Survey Research Group's annual academic survey, more than 6.7 million students nationwide were taking at least one on line course during the fall 2011 term, an increase of 570,000 students over the previous year. Their 2013 census will be conducted this fall.

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