From a Distance

Getting a degree in your time and space

Stephanie W. Ingraham, assistant manager, Regional Operations at Equity Office Properties, a commercial real estate firm in Atlanta, wanted to finish her bachelor’s degree in business, but her full-time job did not allow her the flexibility. “The distance learning program [at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida] allowed me to take classes around my work schedule. Plus, I don’t like classrooms.”

Distance learning programs are becoming increasingly popular, particularly online learning on the college level. According to the United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA), a non-profit education organization in needham, massachusetts, corporate America is using distance learning, both internally and externally, for all aspects of training. In fact, the International Data Corporation, an IT research firm in Framingham, Massachusetts, had predicted that 2.2 million college students would be enrolled in online courses by 2002, up from 710,000 in 1998. This year roughly 84% of four-year colleges offer distance-learning programs up from 62% in 1998.

Because of such growth, Congress authorized the Distance Education Demonstration Program in 1998 as an amendment to the Higher Education Act of 1965. The Program is overseen by the Department of Education and is charged with monitoring the quality, viability, and effectiveness of expanded distance education programs. For a list of participating members and schools, log on to www.ed .gov/offices/OPE/PPI/DistEd.

Dr. Pharra J. DeWindt, instructor in digital literacy at the State University of New York at Buffalo and an educator at McKinley H.S. in Buffalo, advises that prospective students be selective in their choice of programs. Not all programs offer degrees in all majors. The degrees offered at brick and mortar schools may not be available through their distance-learning program. She also stresses signing with a nationally accredited institution. “Accreditation allows legitimate course work credits to be transferred from one institution to the next and legitimizes your degree.”

What you need to know:

  • Is the distance provider accredited by a recognized accrediting agency? To find out if an accrediting agency is legitimate, consult the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (www.chea .org), a private agency in Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Department of Education (www .ed.gov/offices/OPE/ accreditation/natl agencies.html). Find out if accreditation by a particular agency makes the school eligible to participate in federal financial aid.
  • Is the faculty qualified?
  • Is there adequate interaction either through email, chat rooms, or discussion boards? Does the professor have traditional office hours as well as online office hours?
  • Are student services (i.e. technology assistance) provided should the school’s Website go down, for example?
  • Are questions appropriately and sufficiently addressed?
ACROSS THE WEB