Online Degree Completion Programs Allow Adults to Use Earned College Credit

RheAnnon Phipps began her college experience by attending classes on campus to pursue her bachelor’s degree from a 4-year public university. At the time she was still deciding between two majors: elementary education and general business.

“I finished a majority of my basic classes, and one semester I would take classes for elementary education and the next semester I would take general business classes,” she said.

This continued for two-and-a-half years. Then she had to make some tough decisions.

“I had two young daughters, and I had to work to support them. At first I was working part-time and going to school full-time,” Phipps said. “But eventually I sacrificed school to work full-time because I was making good money and I had to take care of my girls.”

Phipps, who is a single mother and works overnight, is like many other working adults with families. Sometimes, other obligations force them to take a break from their educational pursuits. But a break doesn’t have to mean the end.

Phipps already has 50 credits and said she would like to return to school to finish earning her bachelor’s degree. She just needs to find the right degree completion programs.

“Degree completion means the person interested in getting a degree already has some college credit, and for our purposes, that student would need to have at least 12 college credits,” said Karen Stevens, chief undergraduate adviser and senior lecturer for the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s University Without Walls (UWW). “The 12 credits must come from completion of actual college courses, and a benefit of a program like ours is we will accept as many as 75 transfer credits.”

Students at UWW can design their own program of study and are able to earn up to 30 college credits for work and life experience. The program can be completed on-campus, blended format, or entirely online. All courses are accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.

“The degree completion is a writing intensive program, and as part of the program, students have to submit portfolios in which they identify experiences and what knowledge they’ve gained as a result of those experiences,” Stevens said. “The portfolio is built around areas of knowledge, not jobs the students have had. For instance, if a student completed a 40-hour long business management training program, that might earn the student college credit.”

Stevens stressed the benefit of online education – the flexibility and convenience it offers students – would make Phipps a great candidate for a degree completion program.

“She would be able to transfer in most, if not all, of the credits she has already, and be able to do her school work at the most convenient time for her, maybe after the kids are in bed,” Stevens said.

Phipps said she has considered online education to finish her degree but wondered if she would have adequate advising and student support resources online.

Stevens said UWW students have the same adviser all the way through graduation, with 24/7 access to them. She also said the school aims to ease the transition for students returning to school by having a required first class titled Frameworks of Understanding, which helps them become accustomed to online learning.

“I like to think of it as a warm-up class. This class doesn’t have all the bells and whistles,” Stevens said. “It involves reading, writing, and learning how to do research. You don’t want to have a situation where a student is struggling to learn how to learn online. We want students to be successful in this program.”

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