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Interview: Dr. Melinda H. Reagan, President, Amberton University

Dr. Melinda H. Reagan, President of Amberton University joins us to discuss their distance learning degree programs.

Tell us about the distance learning programs offered at Amberton University:

Before we talk about the specific degree programs offered by Amberton University, I would first like to give some insight as to the profile of Amberton University and our distance learning philosophy. Amberton University is a fully accredited, private, upper-division and graduate university. The purpose statement for Amberton University is to provide a quality, relevant, technologically advanced education to adult students in a Christian environment. Since Amberton caters exclusively to the adult student, we believe we are uniquely qualified to present distance-learning programs that meet the needs of the adult learner.

Amberton University views distance learning as an alternative delivery system, emphasizing the student's mastery of the course content over the technology of communicating via the Internet. We believe that the quality of any academic program is in the design and management of learning and not just in the techniques of delivery. This philosophy follows through to the design of all of Amberton's degree programs. In fact, the programs offered through distance learning by Amberton University are also offered "on-ground" in the classroom and are taught by the same qualified faculty.

Amberton currently offers five (5) undergraduate degrees through distance learning: BA - Professional Development, BBA - General Business, BBA - Information Systems & Technology, BBA - Management, and the BS - Human Relations & Business. Graduate offerings include eight (8) degrees: MA - Professional Development, MBA - General Business, MBA - Management, MBA " Strategic Leadership, MS " Family Studies, MS " Human Relations & Business, MS " Human Resource Training & Development, and the MS " Managerial Science.

What is the typical duration of each of your programs?

For undergraduate degrees, a minimum of 126 semester hours is required. The typical Amberton undergraduate student transfers in 45+ semester hours, leaving approximately 80 hours to complete at the University. We encourage our undergraduate students to take no more than four courses per session (Amberton has four sessions per year) since they are working full-time and are attending the University on a part-time basis. (Amberton has four sessions per year.) On an average, our undergraduate students take between 5-6 years to complete a bachelor's degree.

The minimum amount of work beyond the bachelor's degree required for a master's degree is 36 semester hours excluding any prerequisite courses that may be required. It is possible for a graduate student to complete a graduate program in a year's time taking nine hours during each of the University's four sessions, although we encourage our graduate students to take a lighter load. Taking six hours each session and staying continuously enrolled, a student can complete a graduate program in 18 months.

What would you say makes Amberton University programs different and better than other comparable online programs?

There are several areas setting Amberton University apart from other universities offering on-line programs.

I think we touched on one of them briefly in your first question. It has to do with the way we approach distance learning. Our philosophy is that the only difference between on-line and on-ground programs is the delivery methodology. Every course at Amberton University is competency-based, meaning the faculty have developed a detailed list of course competencies the student is expected to learn. Regardless of the teaching method, the same competencies are required.

Another difference is that the same faculty who teach our lecture classes also teach our distance-learning courses. Amberton faculty are unique in that they are not only highly qualified academically but they are practitioners in their respective fields of study and are able to relate very well to the needs of the working adult.

On a very practical level, Amberton is a not-for-profit university and we strive to keep our tuition affordable and within the reach of working adults. In fact, the tuition is only $675 per course with no added fees. It's the same rate for on-ground or on-line courses, regardless of the level " graduate or undergraduate. This is a big difference from colleges who offer on-line degrees and charge much higher tuition costs and fees for distance-learning programs.

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

Accreditation is very important when selecting an online program. However, there are other areas of concern also. Such as making sure the university is philosophically committed to learning and not profiteering. By this statement, I mean you should look for a university that can offer you the support services you need to complete your degree, such as good online research resources and advising support and is not concerned with just extracting payment for exorbitant tuition. It is also a very good idea to look for an institution that has adopted a "Best Practices Policy" for distance-learning programs and adheres to that policy.

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

Good question. The truth is, good learning is good teaching, and good teaching can take place in a classroom, under a tree, or via distance learning. The key is the quality of the program. The quality of any program rests at the course level. As I stated before, all of Amberton's courses are competency-based. Regardless of the teaching methodology, the Amberton faculty is committed to covering the competencies required in the course and to seeing that the student attains these competencies. This philosophy ensures quality regardless of where the learning takes place.

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

I will be the first to admit that online learning is not for everyone. The chief weakness of distance learning is found in the student's opportunity to procrastinate; but, then, the option to drag one's feet is available in any learning methodology. Sure, some students will do better in the classroom where they can also socialize. But, then, some students will prefer to learn at their own pace and within their own time constraints. Our research indicates that adult students choose online programs over traditional ones because of the convenience it affords them. Whether they are balancing work, family or social obligations, distance-learning courses meet their needs for accessibility.

If a student enrolled in one of your programs was interested in finding an internship in their field in their area, do you have any means of assisting them in acquiring an internship position?

The profile of the Amberton student is a person in his/her mid to late 30's who is already employed so the need for an internship program is minimal; however, our students do "network" well with one another and use those opportunities to find avenues for advancement.

Does Amberton University offer any job placement services to your students and graduates?

As stated earlier, the majority of Amberton students are already employed at the time they complete their degrees so job placement services are not offered. The University does enjoy a good reputation among the employers of our graduates, which is a plus for future graduates.

Is financial aid available to students in your programs?

Amberton does not participate in any federal financial aid programs. Again, our decision to not participate stems from a philosophy of keeping our tuition affordable enough so that students can pay as they go and avoid the crushing debt of financial aid loans. We do offer payment plans that allow the student the opportunity to pay throughout the session and graduate debt-free.

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

Yes, remember that online classes allow the student to work at his/her own time and pace; however, it is this freedom and a lack of self discipline that cause a significant percent of students to fail to complete online classes. Failure is seldom a result of being incapable intellectually; failure usually is a result of procrastination " of failing to really ever get started.

So before enrolling in an online course, be certain of your commitment and dedication. Make time management a priority and never assume a distance-learning class is going to be less demanding than a traditional classroom course. Also, do not apply for admission or sign up for any course until you have carefully read the University's Catalog and understand the system; and never sign up for a course until you have reviewed the course syllabus and know what the course is about.

What do you enjoy most about your position at Amberton University?

Clearly, the aspect of my job I enjoy the most is seeing our students meet their educational goals. Adult students face many obstacles in earning their degrees and when our graduates tell us how much they appreciate Amberton University and the role the University has played in their lives, I know we are making a difference.

For more information on distance learning programs available at Amberton University, go here to visit them online.

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

That concludes our interview!

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