by Jan K. Allen
SBJ Contributing Writer
The United States is considered to have the best graduate programs in the world, according to Frank Einhellig, associate vice president of academic affairs and dean of the Graduate College at Southwest Missouri State University.
Of the 2,760 graduate students at SMSU, 121 international students are enrolled, representing 34 countries around the world.
In the office of graduate studies, the staff is working to increase the range of courses and the method of delivery to meet the needs of on-campus students completing master's degrees, as well as busy professionals seeking to build competency in their fields, Einhellig said.
Graduate students are now able to enroll in the master of science in administrative studies program presented via the Internet and can complete all 36 required hours of course study online.
The obvious advantages to online instruction are access and flexibility. Using an assigned password, students can sign in at 11 p.m. or 6 a.m. And they can work at their own pace. Assignments are doled out in the sessions, and papers can be submitted by e-mail or through regular mail, said Barbara Hanson, coordinator of admissions and recruitment.
Students can communicate with professors by e-mail, either on an individual basis, in private consultation or in a group format where all enrollees of a course receive the same information and responses, Hanson said.
The Internet program contains 24 core courses, covering everything from communications and finance to administrative law.
In the 12 hours of optional studies, courses are available in applied communication, community analysis, environmental management or, with approval, a participant may opt for individualized study. This allows a student to focus on a segment of a field that relates directly to his or her profession.
"It's a program that has a lot of advantages," said Charlene Berquist, associate dean of the Graduate College.
Students who seek increased competency in a certain segment of the studies also may elect to take a nine- or 12-hour segment of the program without going for the degree.
Enrollment is currently available through the continuing education department by fax or phone.
SMSU has also expanded its interactive video, or ITV, capacity. The BearNet operates sites in Joplin, Lebanon, Mountain Grove, Neosho, Nevada and West Plains.
Students enrolled in the Internet master's program can combine some of these classes with the ones offered on the BearNet and on-campus classes if they need them to complete their studies in a specific field.
Einhellig said he sees a lot of potential in electronic programs, but the leadership in the graduate studies department is taking it slow and evaluating what it has to offer from every angle before it considers expanding the program.
The school is conscious of the fact that electronically presented classes benefit people in outlying regions. It solves a problem for those who have had to commute to campus from great distances, Einhellig said.
Along with the wonders of electronics, the graduate department is looking forward to the first classes that will be offered at the new health education facility under construction at Kimbrough and Cherry.
Enrollment for the first physical therapy classes will take place in the spring of '99 for the fall semester.
"Like many health-related programs, physical therapy is moving toward a master's degree," Einhellig said.
The physical therapy degree is a two-year program, with the second year requiring on-site clinical experience.
By the year 2000, the new facility will also house a physician's assistant program.
The program is a relatively new and fast-growing segment of the medical community.
Like the physical therapy program, it will be offered on a limited enrollment basis with lots of competition.
In keeping with the strides to respond to the fast-growing field of medicine, Berquist announced another program is still working its way through the system toward approval.
The graduate studies department hopes to add the master of public health program to the list of 37 programs it now has available.
The program has passed the graduate council, and if it successfully passes the rest of the check points, it could be offered as early as next year.
This program will be administered through the SMSU health and physical education department.
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