When Nancy Wendorf spoke at her graduation ceremony in December 2000, she had just five minutes to tell about 27 years of waiting. Wendorf, a senior project manager at Scottsdale, Ariz.-based General Dynamics Decision Systems, started her MBA at age 21. But life soon intervened and Wendorf dropped out when a major car accident put her out of commission. Then came marriage, kids and juggling a career at Motorola—leaving very little time for school.
At age 48, she decided to make time for it and enrolled in the MBA/global management program at the University of Phoenix. For the next two years, she worked full time, helped her kids in the evening with their homework, and then stayed up to do her own—sometimes until 3 a.m.
"I tried the ground schools," says Wendorf. "I'm not saying they're bad, but for someone who's trying to fit an accredited education into a busy life, online schools are the way to go."
More people like Wendorf are turning to online degree programs to continue their education. They enroll at exclusively online universities like Jones International University, based in Englewood, Colo., or they sign up for online programs offered at traditional universities, like George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Many of these students are in their late 30s or 40s and don't want to interrupt their families or careers. All are getting a different kind of degree, taking classes from instructors they rarely see with students who may be next door or in China.
For a student in an online degree program, a typical class day might involve logging on to a Web site to hear a lecture that is delivered as streaming video or posted as text. He or she might join a discussion with other students, the instructor or both in a chat room, or post answers to the instructor's discussion questions. Students might complete assigned readings in textbooks, turn in homework by e-mail, take an Internet-based test, or work in small groups on projects or papers. Since many of them are working full time, they research problems drawn from their jobs for these projects.
"With each project, we collaborated across time zones and coordinated who would finish and turn it in," says Wendorf. "I could be in South Africa on a business trip, but as long as I had an Internet connection, I didn't miss class."
The Online Eduscape