Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado

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June 20, 2008
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Online degrees pay-off in mountain towns

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado " If Maggie Sandoval wants to go to class at 9 a.m. on a Sunday or 10 p.m. on a Wednesday, that's just fine with her professor.

Sandoval, a teacher at June Creek Elementary, is enrolled in a online course at Grand Canyon University in Arizona and is earning her master's degree in "teaching English to students of other languages." Going to class just means turning on her computer.

Besides being able to set your own schedule, online learning has a special appeal to people living in mountain towns like Vail, where we're separated by a two-hour drive from major state universities. Without the Internet, a master's degree could mean a long commute " not an appealing prospect considering the high price of gas " or giving up the job and moving to a new town.

"It's more convenient this way. I can get the stuff done on my own time, and I don't have to drive," Sandoval said.

Online courses across the country are growing in popularity. Around half the classes now offered at Colorado Mountain College are online courses, a number that's steadily gone up, said Debbie Crawford, director of public relations for Colorado Mountain College.

"There's been an increasing demand for Web-based classes or hybrid courses that offer a combination of online learning and classes which are physically in a classroom," Crawford said.

Just this year, the school started a partnership with Mesa State College, so that people seeking bachelor's degrees in vocational fields, like law enforcement, fire science and paramedicine, can begin taking classes in person at Colorado Mountain College, then take the upper level classes online.

The wait lists on online courses are now the first to fill up, Crawford said.

As for the quality of an online education, you'll hear mixed reviews. Some people like it, some people don't, and it may just depend on the course you take and how you process information.

Maria Hanson, who's earning her master's in education with a specialty in reading at Western Oregon University, says she feels like the online courses she's taken have been worthwhile, but it is a little different. There's inherently a large amount of writing in online courses and quite a few essays and papers to complete.

Class discussions come in the form of message boards, where students post questions and ideas and challenge each other, all moderated by the professor.

"In my last class the professor asked us not to cheer-lead each other. We were required to post a question, raise objections and bring in different thinking and research" Hanson said.

Cassie Harrelson, who's earning her master's in bilingual education through The University of Colorado, Boulder, said she's taken online courses for her degree during the winter, and hasn't been too impressed. She really misses the intense, back and fourth discussions that you should find in graduate level courses.

Those online classes were supplemented by three or four visits during the term from the professor " but those weren't too productive.

"We would just end up complaining about the online stuff," Harrelson said. "It's not an effective way to receive a graduate degree.

This summer, a professor from CU will drive to Colorado Mountain College in Edwards once a week to continue the program " which will be a big improvement, Harrelson said.

Teachers from several mountain towns in the area are in the class.

She recently received a letter saying that the $150 fee for the class would be waived because of the high price of gas.

"This is kind of what's kept me in the valley " I kind of thought of leaving," Harrelson said. "But I found this way to work full-time and still go to grad school."

Want to see the variety of online degrees offered in the United States? Visit www.guidetoonlineschools.com.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 970-748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.


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The VailDaily Updated Jun 20, 2008 08:38PM Published Jun 20, 2008 08:36PM Copyright 2008 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.