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Julie Tobash is working to get her bachelor's degree in business administration.
Julie Tobash is working to get her bachelor's degree in business administration.

More students turn to online degree options

Posted online
To help meet the needs of Ozarks Technical Community College’s more than 13,000 students, the school is turning to the possibilities afforded through online education.

Online enrollment is up 34 percent this spring semester compared to spring 2010, with 1,887 students taking classes only online. A total of 4,571 students are taking at least one online class.

Since Thanksgiving, the college has added two online agreements with four-year institutions for students pursuing bachelor’s degrees. The new online agreements are designed to streamline the student’s transition to those four-year institutions, said OTC President Hal Higdon.

“Our philosophy is we are open to any regionally accredited institution that would like to articulate credits with us,” Higdon said. “We want to give our students as many options as possible, and both the University of Illinois-Springfield and the University of Maryland University College are well known nationally for having outstanding programs that are available online.”

OTC has hundreds of articulation agreements with four-year institutions including schools all over Missouri, he said, but the majority of students matriculate to Missouri State, Drury and Evangel universities in Springfield.

OTC’s move to accommodate a growing desire for online courses appears to be in step with national trends. According to, there are more than 5.6 million students taking courses online and more than 4,000 online degrees available.

And it appears that learning online does not equate to a drop-off in the quality of education.

The U.S. Department of Education conducted a meta-analysis of more than 1,000 online-education related studies between 1996 and 2008 and found that students in online conditions performed modestly better, on average, than those learning the same material through traditional face-to-face instruction.

Julie Tobash, an asset manager with Springfield general contractor Build LLC, has her associate’s degree from OTC and is seeking her bachelor’s in business administration through UMUC.

“More and more people stop going to school because they can’t fit classes into their schedule, but I think that taking classes online is better than giving up on your dreams,” Tobash said, adding that she thought earning a bachelor’s degree could open up opportunities at her current job.

She began taking UMUC online classes part-time in 2006 while living with her husband in South Korea, where he was stationed. She has taken up to three classes per semester since then and is planning to graduate in December.

Tobash said she buys her books at the university’s online bookstore and sells them back at the end of the semester either to the school through its guaranteed buy-back program or to local book stores such as The Student Book Exchange.

She said the classes are challenging, and in many ways, harder than taking traditional classes because questions are seldom answered immediately. She said it helps, however, that she has access to her professors and other classmates through e-mail contact lists, which she uses regularly. Tobash said each class she has taken through UMUC has a group project, which also can present challenges due to the range of time zones that might be involved with students who aren’t limited to a specific geographical area.

Chip Cassano, UMUC public relations director, said the school has been offering online courses since the mid-1990s. Among 11 schools within the University of Maryland system, UMUC has been contracted with the U.S. government since 1949 as a provider of distance-learning education. He said the school was established in 1947 as a way to serve soldiers returning from overseas after World War II. Cassano said during the years, the university has tried a number of ways to use technology to meet its students’ needs, including correspondence courses, face-to-face on-site classes and courses through closed-circuit television.

He said the online courses have been popular from the beginning.

“The popularity was almost instantaneous – it was very dramatic,” Cassano said.

It’s that popularity that has made UMUC the largest public university in America, serving 90,000 students, 50,000 of whom are in the military, veterans or military family members. It offers 130 undergraduate programs online and on-site, but makes no distinction between the two, according to Cassano.

Marie Cini, vice president and dean of undergraduate studies at UMUC, said the accessibility and flexibility of online courses have helped to fuel their popularity in recent years.
The challenges, however, are that students must be self-disciplined.

“If you don’t go on Tuesday at 6 p.m., it can be very easy to just not log in and do the class,” Cini said. “Life gets busy, so you have to be very structured, and you’ve got to be organized.”

Tobash said she didn’t know about the recent agreement OTC established with her online school, but she said she thought it was a good idea.

“You never know where life is going to take you, but as long as you have Internet access, you can still get your degree,” Tobash said.[[In-content Ad]]


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