Interview: Dr. Gary A. Massey, Associate Dean, Columbia College

Dr. Gary A. Massey, Associate Dean for Adult Higher Education and Online Campus for Columbia College joins us today to discuss distance education.

Tell us about the distance learning programs offered at Columbia College.

Columbia College currently offers 16 online degrees and more than 500 online classes plus an online MBA. The college also will launch an online Master's in Criminal Justice in January 2008. Students also have the option of taking online and on campus classes at our 32 Nationwide Campuses. The college was founded in 1851 and launched the Online Campus in 2000.

What is the typical duration of each of your programs?

Eight-week classes are offered five sessions a year starting in January, March, June, August and October. Students may attend all five sessions a year or just one.

What would you say makes Columbia College programs different and better than other comparable online programs?

First, Columbia College is consistently ranked among America's Best Colleges by U.S. News & World Report. We also have been named a Best Midwestern College by Princeton Review.

We believe in academic quality. Our online faculty are practicing professionals who have at least a master's degree in their field. They also undergo the same screening process as our full-time faculty. They are reviewed and approved by the appropriate department chairs and the dean for Academic Affairs. All course syllabi also are approved by the appropriate department chairs and the dean for Academic Affairs.

Our admissions process is extremely simple. Students fill out a one-page application and submit a one time non-refundable application fee of $35. That's it.

Our tuition is among the most affordable when compared with other institutions who have attained the same level of accreditation.

Plus we cap the number of students in our online classes at 25. Our online classes are intentionally small to allow our instructors to provide more feedback and contact. Some institutions allow 100 to 200 students to take an online class. We believe a more intimate setting contributes to greater learning.

How important would you say accreditation is when choosing an online college?

Just about every online school says it is accredited, but not all accreditations are created equal. It's important for students to understand what the different accreditations mean. Students may learn more about accreditation at http://www.ed.gov/.

Columbia College is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission and is a member of the North Central Association, a federally approved organization that accredits 8,500 public and private schools.

Our online degree programs meet the same accreditation standards as our on-campus degree programs.

There is some debate as to whether or not online degrees are as worthwhile as traditional degrees. What steps does Columbia College take to ensure that online students are receiving the same education that they'd receive in a classroom?

It is healthy for us as a society to debate this issue because ultimately it will serve the students better. As for Columbia College, we assess what our students learn through the "Major Field Test," which is a test that measures a student's overall body of knowledge when a student is nearing the completion of a degree program. We have found there is no discernable difference in the average scores of the Major Field Test between students who earned their degree on campus or online.

What would you say are some of the benefits of earning a degree online rather than in a traditional classroom?

The obvious benefit is the flexibility provided by online learning. It makes a higher education available to so many individuals who otherwise would never have access to earning a college degree. While it's true there is a loss of face-to-face interaction between a student and a professor, online students actually may have greater access to their instructors and other students through frequent e-mail, chat rooms and highly intensive discussion boards. Equally important, online learning engages all students in a class. Every student participates in discussions, not just those who are outspoken.

Does Columbia College offer any job placement services to your students and graduates?

Columbia College online students have access to the Career Services Center by phone, e-mail and in person if they live near Columbia, Mo. They also have access to important career resources online.

Is financial aid available to students in your programs?

Yes, federal financial aid is available to online students who qualify, plus online students can apply for institutional scholarships available through the Online Campus.

Do you have any advice for students enrolling in online classes for the first time?

As the associate dean of the Online Campus at Columbia College, and an online instructor, my advice to first-time online students is to not underestimate the amount of time it will take to be successful in an online class. Some students have the mistaken idea that online classes may be less rigorous than on campus classes. This just isn't true. To be a successful online student, you need to have self-discipline. If you procrastinate at all, you may not be able to catch up due to the accelerated class format.

What do you enjoy most about your position at Columbia College?

I enjoy working for Columbia College because of its size. We are still small enough to know every faculty and staff member by name, yet we are large enough that we have the resources we need available to us. We are limited only by our creativity and imagination in this rapidly changing industry.

Spearheading the online efforts at the college is challenging and exciting because we are a growing program. More than 12,000 students take online classes with us. We are continually adding new online degrees, including graduate degrees. We just launched an online MBA in January 2007 and we are launching a master of science in criminal justice degree in January 2008.

To Request more information about the distance learning programs available through Columbia College, Go here to visit them online.

Thank you Dr. Massey, for sharing and participating in this piece for Online Degrees 2.0

That concludes our interview!

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