Interview: Dolores Shearon, University of Missouri-Columbia

Dolores Shearon, Marketing Director for Continuing Education, joins us today to discuss distance education at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Tell us about the distance learning programs offered at University of Missouri-Columbia.

MU offers 40 distance-learning options, from bachelor's completion programs through the doctoral level. Most of our programs are geared toward professionals who are motivated to pursue their master's degrees, particularly in education and in the health-care fields, but we also have several bachelor's completion programs. We value quality instruction and provide outstanding student services to our online learners.

What is the typical duration of each of your programs?

Students can work on their degrees either full time or part time. Some finish in as little as two years, while others take longer based on their own schedules and time demands.

What would you say makes University of Missouri-Columbia programs different and better than other comparable online programs?

Founded in 1839, MU has a long history of providing quality education. We also have been offering online degrees longer than most other universities " since 1999. Students who graduate from an established university like ours have a decided advantage with many employers because a degree from a well-branded institution opens doors. MU includes among its alumni CEOs, judges, astronauts and well-known journalists. In most cases, the faculty members who teach the online courses are the same ones who teach the classroom versions of these same degree programs. Many of them have national reputations in their fields, and some have authored textbooks used by other universities around the country. MU also has the highest level of accreditation available through the North Central Association Commission on Higher Learning.

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

One key to evaluating any university is its accreditation. The top level of accreditation occurs through regional accrediting agencies, rather than a national body. Regional accreditation can be especially important if a student plans to pursue additional degrees at another institution because many only accept credits from other regionally accredited schools. Discerning employers also may judge the value of a degree based on the institution and its level of accreditation.

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

Online graduates receive the same University of Missouri diploma that any other graduate does because our faculty members go to great efforts to ensure the quality of education is equal to all students. Most of our faculty members are the same professors who provide classroom instruction for the on-campus versions of these same programs. In terms of workload and quality, they make the same demands of their online students as they do of residential students. Online students are expected to participate frequently in chats and discussion threads with classmates and the instructor; in fact, such participation usually factors into the student's grade for the course.

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

Because of the demands in their lives -- such as family, work and community involvement, a lot of adult students wouldn't be able to continue their education in a traditional format. The courses fit their schedules, whether they study in the afternoons or at 2 a.m. in their pajamas. They tend to have more in common with their classmates, who may be at similar points in their lives and careers. Having been a student who was shy about participating in class as an undergrad, my favorite point to make on this subject is that it's much easier for some people to contribute to a class discussion when the communication is electronic.

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?

Companies frequently share requests for interns with our departments, and faculty members are more than willing to pair qualified students with those opportunities, whether those students are on campus or studying online.

Does University of Missouri-Columbia offer any job placement services to your students and graduates?

MU has a full-service career center whose services are open to any student and graduate, regardless of location.

Is financial aid available to students in your programs?

Students can qualify for various financial aid programs, including federal grants and loan and university scholarships specific to nontraditional learners.

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

Evaluate your choices carefully before choosing a course or program, especially if you plan to transfer credits between institutions. Learn the difference between regional accreditation, which signifies a more stringent review process for universities, and national accreditation. Some regionally accredited universities won't accept credits from schools that don't have that same level of accreditation.

Studying online is the most flexible way to learn. This format can be really empowering because you are in control of your own schedule, but you also are responsible for your own progress. That means you need self-discipline to set aside regular times to read and do assignments. If you have that motivation and don't procrastinate, you can succeed quite well in an online course " and enjoy all the advantages to boot!

What do you enjoy most about your position at University of Missouri-Columbia?

Our faculty and student services staff love working with adult students, particularly online learners. They come back to school for a reason and are serious about their studies and know what they want in life. It's so satisfying to know that we provide a means for them to fulfill their dreams, especially those who otherwise wouldn't have access to an education at a local college or university.

For more information on distance learning programs available at University of Missouri-Columbia, Go Here to Visit them Online.

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

That concludes our interview!

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