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|'GOLD' offers students another path to earn college degree|
Like many students, Lisa Westmoreland spent her first few years in college searching for parking spaces, walking great lengths between classes, lugging books along the way.
When the University of Louisiana-Monroe began offering its online degree program during the spring, Westmoreland jumped on the opportunity, and she's never regretted one second of it.
She enjoys it so much that she encouraged three relatives, currently living in Baton Rouge, to go back to college to get their degrees online. Those relatives have children about to enter college, too.
"Never in a million years would you have thought they'd go back, but they did it," Westmoreland said of her relatives.
Westmoreland never hesitates to encourage others to pursue their degrees this way. Of course, she says students need to be organized and disciplined to succeed with their online courses.
She thinks students who've recently graduated high school would be better served attending classes the traditional way for a few semesters. But she says older students who have put some university courses under their belt would most likely prefer online courses.
"I think I learn a lot more this way," Westmoreland said. "The professors have such a strict curriculum that you can't help but to learn."
"Sometimes you might have distractions in a classroom, but with online, you get to do it at your own pace, and your own time, without those distractions," she said. "You're constantly tested, so they make sure they cover all aspects.
"But, I really think it's much easier. You can be sick, but still have your laptop in front of you. You really can live your life while you pursue your degree. You can do the laundry, feed the kids, take a test … I just love it."
Robyn Jordan, ULM's coordinator for accelerated learning, said the university currently has 125 students registered in its GOLD program.
More than 500 people have inquired about the program since the university began offering it in the spring.
ULM has offered online courses prior to implementing the GOLD program, but Jordan said there was a few missing pieces that had to be added before online degrees could be offered.
Currently, degree programs include the Bachelor of Science in Health Studies: marketing/management concentration; Bachelor of General Studies: business concentration; Bachelor of General Studies: social science concentration; and Associate of General Studies.
Jordan said ULM will offer other degree options starting next year such as the Masters of Fine Arts in creative writing; Master of Science in nursing administration; and Bachelor of Science in Instructional Design.
Jordan believes many other degree programs now offered at ULM will one day be offered online, possibly in a couple of years. However, there are some degrees that simply cannot be offered online, such as some science degrees that require students to do hands-on lab work.
Students who pursue online degrees must be "self-motivated," Jordan said. While students will have the freedom to do course work at any hour of the day, they still must meet weekly assignment deadlines.
Students pursuing an online degree never have to set foot on campus, Jordan said. During their first year in the program, she acts as their advisor, registering them for their classes. They can even buy their books online.
Westmoreland said having Jordan as an advisor has been one of the best aspects of pursuing her degree online.
"It is awesome to have her as a coordinator," Westmoreland said. "She truly takes the legwork out of not being on campus."
Teachers have told Jordan that in many cases, they have more interaction with the online students than with students in their traditional classrooms. That's because for each online course, no more than 30 students are assigned to a teacher, whereas traditional classrooms can include hundreds of students.
Typically, the online degree program is utilized by non-traditional students who are juggling careers and families.
Also, students who never graduated often come back to obtain their degrees through the online program.
Jordan said the online degree program is a perfect opportunity for these students "to finish what they started years ago."
According to information provided by the Louisiana Board of Regents, approximately 600,000 Louisiana adults have earned college credits toward degrees that they have not completed.
ULM president James Cofer said the university's new online programs will help fill this void.
For more information about ULM's GOLD program, visit www.ulm.edu/onlinedegrees.