Interview: Lane Huber, Director Distance Ed, Bismarck State College

Lane Huber, Director of Distance Education at Bismarck State College joins us today to discuss their online degree programs.

Tell us about the distance learning programs offered at Bismarck State College.

Bismarck State College has been offering online courses since 1998. We currently have 10 complete degree programs online and each semester offer over 120 courses and nearing 200 individual sections of courses, serving students in 46 states. Our degree programs include an Associate in Arts (emphasis in criminal justice) degree and eight Associate in Applied Science degrees: Criminal Justice, Human Services, Management, Power Plant Technology, Process Plant Technology, Electric Power Technology, Nuclear Power Technology, and Electrical Transmission Systems Technology. We have three certificate programs: Information Processing Specialist, Web Page Development and Design, and Eligibility Worker. We've also just been approved to offer a Bachelor in Applied Science degree in Energy Management. We'll begin those classes in January of 2008.

What is the typical duration of each of your programs?

Because we are a community college, most of our programs are two-year degrees. Our Bachelor of Applied Science in Energy Management will add an additional two years to our energy AAS degrees.

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

While I'm proud of all the courses and programs we've offered over the years, we've developed a real niche in the energy technology area. What began as an extension of some programs that we've been offering on-campus since the 1970's has mushroomed into high quality industry education and training. Through unique partnerships and the securing of several grants, we've been able to create top quality programs that have been recognized at a national level. We've recently been designated as the National Power Plant Operations Technology and Education Center by the United States Department of Energy.

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

There would be nothing more disappointing to a student than to find out they've spent a lot of money, time, and effort on online classes only to discover they will not transfer to another institution because of accreditation issues. I would encourage all students to ensure the institution they choose is fully accredited by a regional accrediting agency and is eligible to distribute federal financial aid.

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

All of our online classes fall under the same departments as a traditional class would. The same department chair is evaluating the faculty member, the same course objectives are met in the courses, and the same rigorous curriculum is followed in both formats. The only real difference is the delivery method. This, of course, presents some challenges that we've had to be creative at addressing. One of our departments recently tested students, both online and on-campus, after finishing an introductory course in the discipline. The results showed no significant statistal difference between the two groups of students, which mirrors many studies that have been done nationwide. In the end, the student may have used different tools to learn, but achieved the same level of learning.

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

Flexibility is a word we hear over and over from our students. For the most part, they are non-traditional students who are returning to higher education to pursue a degree. They are working adults with families and responsibilities. Without the ability to take classes online, it would take them a very long time to finish with night classes. I would venture to guess that many of them would be unable to finish their education. Another advantage is access to classes/programs that are not offered in a student's area. We offer very specialized technical degrees and unless a student would be willing to pack up and move to North Dakota, they would be unable to complete these programs.

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

Bismarck State College offers employment related services to students, alumni, and employers. Employment opportunities are posted on an online system and are accessible 24/7. Services include on-campus interviews, resume writing assistance, and mock interviews, to name a few of the services.

Is financial aid available to students in your programs?

Yes, most of our students receive federal financial aid. We also have many scholarship programs available.

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

Online learning offers students a tremendous amount of flexibility and freedom. This can be good AND bad. Students who think that online classes will be less work than traditional classes will find out quickly that this is not the case. There is no one prodding you in a classroom three times a week to get your work done. Students who tend to procrastinate will have to make a concerted effort to set up a weekly schedule to study, and then stick to it! Those students, however, that are self-disciplined and stick to a schedule each week find that online classes are a great way to get an education.

What do you enjoy most about your position at Bismarck State College?

I enjoy working with folks who are finally getting a chance to go back to school and earn a degree in a field they really want to get into. From time to time I'll run into a student that has completed one of our online degrees and they often tell me that if it wasn't for our programs, they would have never been hired or promoted. That makes it all worthwhile!

For more information on distance learning programs available at Bismarck State College, Go Here to Visit them Online.

Thank you Lane, for sharing and participating in this piece for Online Degrees 2.0

That concludes our interview!

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