Graduate degrees online: not the easy way, but no classrooms

Sam Houston State University has offered graduate degrees for decades, and the programs are constantly growing, but what may surprise people is that the university also offers graduate programs online. It enables off-campus students to earn their degrees as they continue to work (and live) anywhere in the world.

Dr. Ken Hendrickson, director of Graduate Studies of History, explained that funds go toward electronic expenses and staff salary. One issue students face with internet courses is the personal aspect, especially classroom experience and professor interactions.

“I find it to be more personal because I can address each student individually,” Hendrickson said.

The History department has offered an online Masters degree for seven years, and the ratio of on-campus students to distance learners is remarkable. There are about 30 students on campus seeking an M.A. in History while 115 students pursue the same degree from all parts of the country, and even the world.

Each department approaches online graduate studies differently, and The College of Business Administration is one example. The Executive M.B.A. was created in 2005, a program invented specifically for distance learners, and instead of dividing fees into different sections, the entire program costs $2,800. A lump sum fee is standard for M.B.A.’s across the nation, but what distinguishes that of SHSU is that it is less expensive.

The program requires all the same courses as a regular M.B.A. and yet allows professionals to continue their education while still working full time, even supporting families.

“Academically it’s the same” said Dr. Leroy Ashorn, associate dean of Graduate Studies. “It’s not the easy way to get an M.B.A.”

The program is two years long and students are required to spend the first two weeks of each year on campus for intensive study. The program includes 36 credit hours over a two-year period.

In the initial two-week residency students spend 108 hours in class, spanning six days a week. The degree does not require a thesis, but rather a capstone course, which is common to M.B.A. programs.

The Criminal Justice department at SHSU is the largest in the country. The Master’s of Science in Criminal Justice Leadership and Management offers three different study options. Those options are On-Campus, Weekend Intensive, and Online, the latter of which has been running since 2005 and now has 12 students.

The weekend option has proved more desirable than the online option to most M.S. student because so many reside in Texas and prefer the Weekend Intensive Option. Though most of the online M.S. students are Texans, there are also students from Missouri and even Pennsylvania. The M.S. is a two-year program, including 36 credit hours, as well as a capstone course, which replaces the Master’s Thesis.

“The main benefit is that students are able to continue to work full time,” says Doris Powell, admissions coordinator for the College of Criminal Justice. “We get a lot of interest from students who are in the military.”

Many of the students in the program have been retirees who wish to give back to the upcoming Criminal Justice community, and many go on to get their Ph.D.’s

Additional fees include $50 for online access to Newton Gresham Library and $30 for the opportunity to use the Writing Center online. Mrs. Ann Holder, Director of Library Services at Newton Gresham Library, says that these fees are necessary to pay the salaries of librarians, who are available at all library operating hours on a program called Live Reference. The program allows distance learners to chat with librarians in order to find exactly the material they need, either online or within the actual library.

Holder says that the purpose of online library services is to make it seem as if the distance learners were in the library on campus.

In addition to live chatting, Newton Gresham Library offers two different services, called Interlibrary Loan, which provides books via mail to distance learners, and Illiad which sends photo or electronic copies of articles to students off-campus.

Standard distance learning courses cost $50 per credit hour, though prices are subject to change at any time by action of the State Legislature or by the Board of Regents of The Texas State University System. Distance learning services are an additional $303 for the fall semester of 2009.

“We try to maximize every dollar,” Holder said. “We pay for access to only a few books and, in turn, receive access to whole libraries in different parts of the country. All students, both graduate and undergraduate, have access to these resources, and it’s important that they know about it,” she said.

Dr. James Van Roekel, director of Academic Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, emphasizes that the goal of online graduate programs is, “to ensure that students have access to the same things that they would in an on-campus program.”

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