PUBLISHED: 10:41 AM on Wednesday, August 10, 2005
Alaskan students go online for education

Photo courtesy of Wayne Longacre
  Wayne Longacre of Juneau attending his graduation ceremony. He received his law degree from Concord Law School, the nations' first fully online law school.
With all of the advances in technology, it's no wonder that people are finding it easier than ever to further their educations-even if they live far away from the college or university that they attend. Through the use of online or distance education, today's students can study for bachelor and associate degrees, earn a master's degree, or receive the certifications needed for career advancement without ever leaving the comfort of their homes.

Wayne Longacre of Juneau is one of these students. A retired analyst programmer for the state, Longacre, now 60, graduated from Concord Law School and recently passed the California Bar Exam.

Concord is the nation's first fully online law school. "I'd always been interested in law and law enforcement, and after I retired, I began looking into online criminal justice programs," he explained. "When I saw that I could study for a law degree, and perhaps become a lawyer, I decided that this was the best option for me."

Karen Fredrickson of Sitka also has an interest in the criminal justice field and chose to enroll at Kaplan University to earn an associate's degree, and then her bachelor's degree. More than 150 students in Alaska currently attend the online school. "I'd planned to earn a degree years ago in criminal justice, and had 30-pluscollege credits," explained the 61-year-old SEARHC manager. "Then came marriage and children. But I always had a degree as my goal, and I wanted to earn it for my own personal satisfaction."

"Now after 40 years, I am reaching my goal," she added. "Never give up on your dreams!"

A number of universities now offer online education options, including the University of Alaska and the University of Phoenix, among others. According to Caitrin Muldoon, public relations associate for both Kaplan University and Concord Law School, schools that offer this type of degree program are beginning to see a spike in enrollment, particularly from remote and rural areas.

"There is no 'typical' student," she said. "We've got just as many first-time students in our programs as people who are going back to complete a degree. While the average age of a student at Kaplan is 34, we're also seeing an increase in older students as baby boomers age."

People looking at online education are also getting wiser, looking for things like a school's accreditation and curriculum before making a decision. "Concord's accreditation by the DETC (Distance Education and Training Council) was very important to me," said Longacre. "I didn't want a junk degree."

Photo courtesy of Wayne Longacre
  Online education is an attractive option for those students who want to study subjects not available at universities near their homes. Wayne Longacre of Juneau recently grduated from Concord Law School and passed the California State Bar Exam.
According to online students, it takes more than just sitting in front of a computer to earn these degrees. "Just because the course is online doesn't mean it's an easy course," said Fredrickson, who took two classes a semester. Her course-load consisted of two, one-hour seminars each week, as well as assignments due at the end of each week and a project to complete, and weekly message board sessions that required her to respond to questions from at least four other students to get credit.

"The time spent earning a degree was substantial," agreed Longacre, who said that it took far more than the 20 hours he'd estimated it would take each week. "It was very challenging-it took a lot more effort that I'd expected."

Steven Stewart of Juneau is currently in the process of earning a business degree while also running two businesses that he owns. "Online education is easier for me because I don't have time to sit in a classroom for several hours," he said. "It melds better with my lifestyle."

As the owner and general manager of Knightwatch Security and the co-owner of a firearms business, Stewart, 39, says he appreciates the different viewpoints of the people he meets online. "I get to interact with people from all over," he says of the online seminars that take place once a week. "The instructors are also highly credible; one of my instructors worked for a Fortune 500 company, and I've learned quite a lot from him."

As for whether his degree will be accorded the same respect in the workforce as a degree from a physical facility, Stewart has no qualms. "A degree is a degree, whether you sit in a classroom for four years or in front of a computer," he said. "I'm still gaining knowledge. And the parchment is the same, whether you walk to class or get it online, as long as the accreditation is there."

"What counts is that you choose a good school," agreed Longacre, "just as if it was made of bricks and mortar."

As to whether she would recommend online education to others, Fredrickson says that she would without hesitation. "My son is a sergeant in the Army, and he's taking online courses," she said. "My daughter works full-time and takes online classes. It really works."

"And where else can you go to school in your pajamas?" she added.