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Distance Learning Provides Flexibility In Challenging Circumstances

By CityTownInfo.com Staff

February 18, 2009

Online degrees are proving to be advantageous and popular for students who must juggle multiple responsibilities, schedules, or challenges.

The News & Observer [from an article originally located at http://www.newsobserver.com/news/story/1407379.html] in North Carolina reports that last semester, N.C. State University marked a significant milestone: One of its 33 valedictorians was Lindsay Lewchuk, who took all of her courses through distance learning. Lewchuk, who suffers from an autoimmune disorder, is the first student to receive the academic honor without ever attending a single class on campus.

Online education is gaining momentum as more students find themselves unable to attend traditional classes. Some, like Lewchuk, face physical challenges, while others are juggling work or family responsibilities.

A related article in Texas' Austin American-Statesman reports the same trend. "Online learning is no longer the exception" in higher education, said Bill Stewart, assistant vice president for institutional advancement at Excelsior College, based in Albany, New York, who was quoted in the Statesman. "In many cases it is part of the mainstream operation of almost any college."

The article notes that according to the US. Department of Education, nearly 10 million undergraduates and 2 million graduate students at accredited colleges participated in online or blended classes in 2006 and 2007. Blended classes consist of both on-campus and online components in the same course.

Distance learning has proven to be popular with military personnel and rural residents seeking college degrees. Demetria Barksdale told the Statesman that she finally earned an online associate's degree in 2003 after trying for many years while she was in the Navy. An employed mother of two school-age children, she is now working towards her bachelor's degree through Excelsior College.

Online education is also assisting law enforcement personnel in rural areas who must complete mandatory training. The Statesman reports that jailers across Texas are offered classes through the Texas Engineering Extension Service, part of Texas A&M University, which allows jailers to receive training at a low cost.

In a nod to the distance learning trend, PRNewswire announced this week that Walden University, which offers a completely online curriculum, is adding three new degree programs in nursing, instructional design and technology, and management leadership.

For Lewchuk, distance learning proved to be a godsend. Although she originally intended to attend classes on campus, her medical condition flared up and required her to stay at home with her parents.

Now undergoing treatment for her illness, she is pursuing a master's degree in philosophy through Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary's distance education program.

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