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COLUMBUS, Miss. — Sheena Boyd, 30, a Mississippi University for Women senior from West Point, typically works a 26-hour week at a local retail store. But the management information systems major has a dream of earning her degree and entering the workforce as an IT specialist.

Online courses at MUW are allowing her to accomplish that goal without missing valuable work time.

“I needed a job,” she said. “Taking courses online lets me work, as well as save the expense of gas and time commuting.” Boyd typically takes two online courses each semester, as well as those she can schedule on the MUW campus.

After earning an associate’s degree from East Mississippi Community College in 2004 and entering the workforce afterwards, she says a bachelor’s degree now is within sight. “I’ll finish either in May or December,” she said.

Online courses offer tremendous flexibility for students who are working, most full-time, said Marty Brock, chair of the Department of Business. A specialist in distance education, she said, “We enroll a lot of nontraditional students, especially single parents. Online learning offers them opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have.”

This fall, 31 percent of MUW’s enrollment is online, representing students from 69 of Mississippi’s 82 counties and 15 states. “We are consciously trying to meet a need that helps advance our state, and the growth of a number of our programs says we’re doing it successfully,” said MUW President Jim Borsig.

Self-paced courses offer students the option to access material when their schedules allow, Brock said, even if that’s at 3 a.m. “With online materials, they can review over and over, rather than capturing information a single time during a class lecture. And there are class discussion boards to ensure students are interacting with other students and the material.”

The fully online management information systems degree program, in which Brock teaches, has shown her that some students actually do better in an online environment. “It removes a barrier of shyness for some,” she explained. “Often, those who don’t speak up in class will feel more comfortable participating online.” The College of Business and Professional Studies will begin to offer an online master’s in global commerce beginning in 2013.

A fully online master’s in health education, offered through the Department of Health and Kinesiology, as well as a recently added fully online bachelor’s degree in public health education, are meeting the growing needs of those who seek to upgrade licenses or improve job mobility, said department chair Mark Bean. In fact, after only one year, the new online bachelor’s degree has 80 students enrolled.

“Often, these students are involved in a hands-on job that doesn’t allow them to physically be on campus,” Bean said. “An online program allows them to broaden their skills and helps with their future mobility.”

And the need is apparent, he points out. “Since we introduced it five years ago, the online health education option has grown by 100 percent. “ The master’s degree requires 30 credit hours of coursework and six credit hours of an internship or thesis, with graduates working in communities, schools, healthcare settings and government agencies.

Bean said graduates have a strong track record of acceptance into professional schools and also are prepared to take the Certified Health Education Specialist exam, considered the gold standard credential for health educators. “The online programs have been a real success,” he said.

Since it was introduced in 2002, the online RN to BSN Advanced Placement Option offered in Tupelo through the College of Nursing and Speech Language Pathology has increased from approximately 30 students to 414 this fall.

“This program, which can be taken completely online or partially online, is providing career options for associate degree RNs who wish to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing to improve their career flexibility,” said Dean Sheila Adams. “With students enrolled from around Mississippi, we know that we’re helping serve healthcare professionals in the communities where they live and work, as well as meeting a vital need in our state.”

While many students continue to benefit from the traditional campus educational experience, Borsig said all educational institutions now must think beyond brick-and-mortar learning.

“In an era that requires lifelong learning for all of us, we have to be prepared to meet students where they are, providing skills that will help ensure our state is competitive and responsive to the needs of our citizens.”

For more information about online learning at MUW, see http://web2.muw.edu/index.php/online-learning.

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