Rich Rohn gets up before the sun, works a nine- or 10-hour day, then goes to college.
Fortunately, this busy Massillon father of two can take his Malone University classes by simply walking upstairs to his home office.
“I’m usually on the computer until midnight every night,” said Rohn, assistant superintendent for the Legends of Massillon golf course in Massillon.
Rohn, 33, is one of a growing number of Stark County students taking college classes via computer, prompting Malone and other schools to offer more courses, even entire degrees, online.
“Nationally, the adult learning population is the fastest growing student population,” said Laura Foote, who teaches online classes for Malone.
“More than 40 percent of students are adult learners — that’s over the age of 25 and usually working, maybe with a family. The original reason we (Malone) did online was to meet their needs. The great thing about online is you can do it any time of the day or night, work it around your schedule.”
Foote, who earned her doctorate online, teaches courses for the Malone Management Program (MMP), which earned national recognition this year, placing 33rd in the ranking of online degrees by U.S. News & World Report. The MMP, a bachelor’s degree, can be completed in 15 months.
Of online degrees, master’s degrees are more common, and popular, than bachelor’s degrees. When Kent State University opted to offer the master’s in music education as an online degree, the resultant jump in applications was eye-popping.
“We had five to 10 students coming to campus each year to take this degree,” said Deborah Huntsman, executive director of Continuing and Distance Education. “We now have more than 150 students. Both the master’s in music ed and the master’s in public relations grew very rapidly in just a year’s time.”
Huntsman said Kent has several totally online degrees in planning stages that will launched next year. A similar expansion is happening at the Stark campus, according to Ruth Capasso, associate dean.
“We’ve been adding (online) courses every semester for a number of years,” Capasso said. “It’s been an organic growth. Each semester a faculty member says they’d like to try a hybrid — some classroom, some online.”
The hybrids often lead to an entirely online class, but some professors stay with the combination.
“They’ll put the lecture online, then the class time is devoted to engaging the student, working on projects, more active pursuits,” Capasso said.
NOT FOR EVERYONE
At area schools, the tuition per credit hour is about the same for online as for “on ground,” but Capasso said some students see a savings in gas costs by not having to drive to campus.
Students, faculty and administrators all warn that online classes aren’t for everyone.
“You have to be committed,” Rohn said. “It could be easy to get lazy or procrastinate. If you procrastinate, you’ll be in big trouble.”
Capasso said students must be “self-starters.”
“Some students benefit from meeting on a regular schedule. It keeps them on track. Online requires a disciplined person. Not everybody is interested in working on the computer alone.”
To keep online classes from being isolating, Foote said, they include planned, regular interaction with the professor and classmates.
“There are ‘threaded discussions.’ The teacher posts a question and the students give answers, then respond to the answers of other students in the class,” Foote said. “This goes on all week – they log in, answer questions posed to them and pose questions to other students.”
Huntsman said online classes can actually require more participation.
“They need a lot of feedback online. It’s different from a classroom. You can’t be the quiet student who sits in the corner.”
Online classes can offer time savings and convenience for students, but there’s a benefit to the universities as well. Online courses allow schools to attract students from anywhere in the world, thus bringing in more tuition. For example, of the 150 students enrolled in Kent’s master’s of music education, only half are from Ohio.
Are online degree respected? Ruth Capasso said questions of quality are about “for-profit schools that specialize entirely on online degrees,” not about established institutions.
“The kind that Kent offers, and our fellow institutions like the University of Akron, are selected programs where we’ve identified a need for (online) and determined the material can be delivered that way,” she said.
Foote was emphatic in her defense.
“It used to be the perception that online was less than or easier than getting a degree on ground,” said Foote. ”But research has shown that is not true. The online results are equally as good as on ground.”