MAKING THE DECISION TO RETURN TO SCHOOL

Education has become much more customizable over the past few years. The diversity of course delivery methods, including face-to-face, online and on-demand opportunities, allows students to balance work, family life and other activities with school like never before. In addition, degree programs that were once out of reach are now readily available.

Even with the increased flexibility of educational opportunities today, returning to school is one of the biggest decisions you will make. This decision is often based on a variety of factors, including personal fulfillment, desire to compete more readily in the job market, gain a promotion or change career paths. Regardless of your reasons for considering school, it is more important than ever to be well-informed.

5 Rules To Follow

1. Regional Accreditation: Accreditation should be considered before any other factor, as it ensures that an institution meets or exceeds an established set of educational standards. As a result, courses from an accredited university are transferable to other colleges, and degrees from an accredited universities are more likely to be valued by both current and future employers.

Keep in mind: Not all accreditation is the same

Beware of accreditation claims. Many questionable “accrediting agencies” exist. Look for the words “Regionally Accredited,” as regional accreditation is approved by the United States Department of Education. The Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education  (WICHE) has an excellent article on what regional accreditation is and why it’s important.

2. Financial Aid: Investigate your financial aid options. You may be pleasantly surprised by the types of financial aid available to you, including loans, grants and scholarships. In addition, many colleges and universities offer tuition installment plans which help make college more affordable. Ask about such programs. You can get started today by filling out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at fafsa.ed.gov. You may also find it helpful to read our post on reducing college debt.

3. Degree Programs: Be sure that the colleges and the degree program(s) you are considering “fit” with your long range educational plans. For example, if you are thinking about enrolling in an online associate degree program and later hope to earn a bachelor’s degree (online or on campus), find out how likely it is that the coursework from your associate degree will count toward your bachelor’s degree.

4. Student Resources: Does the school you’re considering have a student services office dedicated to assisting prospective and current distance learners? Are research materials easily accessible? Is there a career services center? Tutoring? Technology support? All of these things are essential to your success! Also, if these things are available, how easily accessible are they?

5. Flexibility: Education has made great strides in the past few years to ensure flexible scheduling options.  Compare the flexibility you need for your lifestyle with the flexibility offered by schools you are considering.

  • Look for opportunities for accelerated education (completion)
  • Look for a program that has an alternate online path or can be completed entirely online.
  • Examine individual coursework options. These may include:
    • Self-paced or on-demand options (sometimes referred to as correspondence or independent learning)  allow flexibility with time-to-completion, allowing students to complete courses at an accelerated pace or extend beyond a semester.
    • Online/web courses run a typical semester schedule, but cut out travel to campus and allow coursework to be completed at flexible hours.
    • Evening/Weekend course offerings and
    • Alternative session dates and locations.

Don’t forget … familiarize yourself with terminology used to describe the most flexible options:

  • Online/Web courses
  • On Demand courses
  • Correspondence courses
  • Self-paced courses
  • Interactive Video courses

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U.S. NEWS RANKS WKU ONLINE PROGRAMS AMONG BEST IN NATION

online_badge16WKU ranked third in the nation in the Best Online Bachelor Degree Programs category, second to Penn State and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University which tied for first place.

The ranking also placed WKU’s M.A. in Criminology among the top 12 online graduate degree programs in the Best Online Criminal Justice Programs category.

“Being ranked among the best online programs in the nation is a testament to the quality of faculty, students, technology and student support WKU offers,” said Dr. Julie Uranis, Director of Distance Learning at WKU. “Penn State and Embry-Riddle are leaders in education, so it’s an honor to be ranked alongside these excellent schools.”

Other WKU programs were ranked among the top 100 online graduate programs in the nation, including Best Online Education Degree (online M.A.E. programs for teachers), Best Online MBA Degree and Best Online Nursing Degree for the M.S.N. program.

Online programs are degrees that offer 80 percent or more required coursework online. The ranking includes online bachelor’s degrees combining data from all undergraduate level disciplines.

U.S. News ranked seven disciplines at the master’s degree level: business (MBA), business (non-MBA), computer information technology, criminal justice, education, engineering and nursing. Within each graduate degree program there are five indicator rankings: Student Engagement, Student Services & Technology, Faculty Credentials & Training, Admissions Selectivity, and Peer Reputation. Within the undergraduate ranking, there are four indicator rankings: Student Engagement, Student Services & Technology, Faculty Credentials & Training, and Peer Reputation.

“The fact that so many of our online degree programs rank highly speaks to the commitment of the WKU faculty for providing excellent online opportunities for our students,” said Dr. Beth Laves, associate vice president, Extended Learning & Outreach at WKU. “This is also the result of outstanding student support from numerous departments across campus, including Academic Technology, Distance Learning, Library Services, Online Program Services and the Online Writing Center, just to name a few.”

For information about online degree programs at WKU, contact WKU Online at (270) 745-5173. The methodology used in these rankings can be found online at www.usnews.com/online.

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WE ALL HAVE A STORY

We all have a story! Each of us have memories of those who impacted our lives, encouraged and inspired us – those who helped make us who we are today. We’ve overcome obstacles, juggled responsibilities, celebrated accomplishments and experienced failure.

Who are WKU’s Distance Learners? What’s their story?

Of course, we knew the basic demographic information of our distance learners and academic progress. We knew, based on research, that the typical adult learner returned to school to stay competitive in the job market or change careers; that they are faced with many challenges, including: rigid schedules, tight budgets, career and family responsibilities, but we wanted to know more. We reached out to WKU distance learners across the globe, and asked them to share. What we heard was inspirational, heartfelt and informative.

Feature stories are included below; more are available on our website.

Feature Stories

Lacey B.
lacey_b
“Distance Learning is the BEST decision I have made during my educational journey. I am currently completing my M.S. in Communication Sciences and Disorders. It is so convenient to be able to continue my education while also staying at home with my beautiful daughter and husband. It is much easier to have class at home in my pj’s than it would be to travel to class. I live two hours away from WKU, but I’m still getting a wonderful educational experience!”

Garnett C.
“Distance learning has changed not only my life, but also my family’s life. Without distance learning I could have never gone back to school to pursue first, my Bachelor of Science in Nursing, and now my Master’s in Nursing Administration. Because of distance learning I am able to provide a comfortable life for my family. I work full time and live in a rural area of Kentucky. Distance learning was the only option for me to be able to pursue my career goals. The ease and flexibility of online classes took the stress out of managing my many obligations of work, school, and family. I have enjoyed learning from other student’s perspectives through the discussion boards. The sense of accomplishment I have gained from my education is indescribable. My advice to anyone considering online education is to stop thinking about it and get started.”

Katharine Q.
kquince“I have wanted a graduate degree in Women’s Studies for over a decade, but there isn’t one offered where I live in Portland, Oregon. I was so excited to find the certificate offered online at WKU and to find that it was compatible with an MA program focused on social justice. The classes in both programs feel like they were tailor made to fit my interests and goals. Enrolling at WKU has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made!”

Kellie S.
“My brother was the first to go to college and I followed in his footsteps, but it took me a lot longer to accomplish this goal. After joining the military I used my GI Bill to get back and finish my Bachelor’s. Then a move happened and I am not teaching right now. So I figured why not head back to school…so I did, and while I did this, I worked full time (still do), endured a deployment, raised 2 boys…well my list goes on and on. But it’s been tough and WKU has been there every step of the way. Having everything online at the touch of my fingertips is just what I need. Life is unpredictable. With that I can study on my terms, that’s normally when my boys are asleep or I have a few extra minutes to study. The online classrooms are at your own pace, but they are also challenging and provide me with everything I need. It’s easy and a joy to do. Online classes are going to be part of our future and WKU made that possible for me.”

Meet more WKU distance learners

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MAKING A SUCCESSFUL TRANSITION TO ONLINE LEARNING

Make things happenEarning your degree online may seem scary at first, but interaction with your professor and classmates can carry just as much meaning, and provide even more freedom, than most face-to-face interaction.

Online demands the full attention of the entire class, which means that you’re exposed to a more diverse range of conversation than often exists in a face-to-face environment. Self-motivation is key within such a demanding and competitive setting. The online environment forces you to work independently, increases personal accountability, challenges you to think through arguments in detail before putting them in writing and improves your written communication skills in greater ways than many other environments do. These same skills will have a positive impact on your performance in the work place, because so many of the same are required for success at work.

Teaching also takes new form in an online classroom. Academic institutions, the professors, and support staff must find new and enticing methods to reach out to students in order to optimize their online learning experience and maximize their future scholastic and career opportunities.

As an online student, you have virtually instant access to resources and choices that were not available in the past.

Still, if you’re considering online learning (or just starting), it’s not unusual to feel uncertain about this new environment. Here are a few suggestions to help you succeed:

Keep a Calendar

One of the best pieces of advice I received prior to starting my online program was from a woman in WKU Online. Her kind and well-intended words were simple, “keep a calendar of all upcoming assignments for the semester.” I had no idea how important this was. Online courses are dependent on the student’s ability to hold themselves accountable and stay on schedule. It can be tempting to push assignments to the back burner, but that leads to falling behind, which results in frustration and under performance.

Read the Syllabus

Professors craft their syllabi to deliver the information you need to be successful in their course. The syllabus will include information such as how to contact them, class objectives, the schedule, due dates of tests or assignments, books or readings, and grading data.

Check out Campus Resources

WKU offers a great variety of academic support for online learners, including research and writing assistance, career services, webinars and more! Make sure you visit the Student Resource Portal and become familiar with the support available.

Embrace your Anonymity

This is what I was referring to earlier when I said an online environment can provide “even more freedom.” It allows greater participation than could ever be achieved in a face-to-face classroom, simply because of time constraints involved with F2F learning. Plus, online participation means speaking out, answering questions and providing feedback to others in a new way. Believe it or not, not being seen is empowering.

Ask Questions & Take Cues

Professors differ in how much they direct, interact, and engage the class in forums and discussions. Yet the questions they ask are pertinent to course progression and content. If you don’t understand an assignment, ASK. Asking questions is one of the most important things you can do.

If you’re brand new to online learning and unfamiliar with Blackboard, you may find it helpful to visit our Orientation for Online Learners at www.wku.edu/online/orientation. The Orientation provides guest access to Blackboard and resources to help you get started.

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ONE SIMPLE STEP TO REDUCE COLLEGE DEBT

Wouldn’t it be awesome to graduate debt-free with a college degree!?!? For most of us, this is more fantasy than reality, especially with the rising costs of a college education. However, there are things you can do right now – as a current student or even before you’re admitted – that can make a huge difference in your student loan debt over the course of your time in school. The obvious things include following a sound budget, working while you’re in school and borrowing only the amount you need to pay your tuition and purchase books (even though most schools offer the maximum and require that you adjust the amount you’re willing to accept). Those things work! They are tried and true, but there is also something else you can do – it’s as simple as filing your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) early.

The Ins & Outs of the FAFSA

Every college student should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), including those who are still waiting on their letters of acceptance. The FAFSA requires you to answer questions about your income and assets (for dependent students it also requires information about your parents’ income and assets). The answers you provide, along with IRS documentation, will help the federal government determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC indicates the amount of money that the government expects you and your parent(s) to be able to pay toward your college education for the upcoming academic year. If your estimated cost of attendance (COA) exceeds your EFC, you may qualify for need-based loans (which are subsidized while you’re in school and have lower interests rates after you graduate) and/or grants to help pay your college bills.

Even if you feel that you do not qualify for need-based assistance or have enough to cover tuition, you should still file the FAFSA. The FAFSA is required in order for you to take a federal school loan of any kind, and it is also required for students who wish to work on campus.

“Filing early is especially important for those who hope to qualify for grants and/or student employment. Grants are awarded to qualifying students on a first-come, first-served basis. When the funds are depleted the level of need is not considered, which means an early application can mean the difference in qualifying for federal college grants such as Pell, FSEOG, and TEACH grant, as well as state grants, such as the KHEAA CAP grant,” said Cindy Troutman, program manager for WKU Online.

You can file your FAFSA as early as January 1 of the year you intend to enter school. For those hoping to get started in Fall 2015 – your FAFSA awaits! You’ll have to repeat the process each year as you pursue your education, but the first application you fill out is the most cumbersome. Below is a list of items you’ll need to complete your application. The more organized you are when you start the process, the more smoothly it will go.

What You’ll Need

  • Social Security number
  • Driver’s license (if available)
  • Your tax forms (don’t worry if they aren’t complete yet—you can use estimated numbers now and adjust them later if needed)
  • Your parents’ tax forms (again, using estimated figures is OK for now)
  • Records of untaxed income, such as payments to tax-deferred savings plans, child support, veterans benefits, or workers’ compensation
  • Current bank statements
  • Information about any businesses you or your family own, investment mortgage information, business and farm records, and other investment records

This sounds like a lot, yes! It’s not as bad as it seems, because there is easily accessed help along the way. You can even access a practice worksheet at www.fafsa.ed.gov. The worksheet will allow you to do a practice run, so you can see the process before you officially get started. You can fill the FAFSA out as early as January 1, but anytime in January helps to ensure that you’re among the first group considered for aid.

Steps to Getting Started

  1. Pull the required documents together, which are outlined above.
  2. File your FAFSA online at fafsa.ed.gov (the school code for WKU is 002002)
  3. Speed the processing of your FAFSA by signing the form electronically with a Personal Identification Number (PIN). Follow the steps outlined at fafsa.ed.gov to request a PIN or visit pin.ed.gov – the process is simple. Also, if you’re a dependent student, one parent must register for a PIN as well, since the application will also require a parent’s signature. in order to sign the FAFSA electronically.

What’s Next

Once you file your FAFSA, you’ll receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) that contains your EFC. If you provided a valid e-mail address at the time of your application, you’ll receive your SAR by e-mail. You can also view it online. Your SAR and EFC will be sent to the schools you listed on your FAFSA. These schools will offer you financial aid packages based on the results of your application.

Helpful Resources

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U.S. NEWS RANKS WKU ONLINE BACHELOR’S PROGRAMS SECOND IN NATION

WKU’s online bachelor’s degree programs have been ranked second in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.

WKU finished in a three-way tie for Best Online Bachelor’s Programs in the rankings released this week. Pennsylvania State University World College was first and WKU tied with Daytona State College and University of Chicago-Illinois.

WKU was also ranked 11th in Graduate Criminal Justice Programs, 35th in Graduate Education Programs, 70th in Graduate Nursing Programs and 84th in Master’s of Business Administration Programs.

“This recognition is a validation of the hard work and dedication of our faculty in developing and teaching online programs at WKU,” Beth Laves, Associate Vice President for Extended Learning & Outreach, said.

The Division of Extended Learning & Outreach (DELO) operates WKU’s online offerings and supports faculty in the development of courses, training, tools and resources to enhance the learning experience and heighten student engagement.

WKU Online program services staff also provide award-winning student services that play a significant role in making our program stand out,” Dr. Laves said.

She said those services include access to an Online Presentation Coach, Online Writing Center, electronic resources from WKU Libraries, research assistance, a directory of Top Tools for Online Learners, Online Tutoring and Career Services and other services specifically designed for distance learners and free of charge.”

Ten years ago, WKU had 1,262 undergraduate students enrolled in one or more web courses. By fall 2014, online enrollment had quadrupled with 4,949 WKU undergraduates taking at least one web course.

WKU makes 12 bachelor degree programs available online: Sociology, Child Studies, Family Studies, Organizational Leadership, Interdisciplinary Studies, Computer Information Technology, Dental Hygiene, Environmental Health Science, Business Administration, Registered Nursing to Bachelor of Science in Nursing, Systems Management and Technology Management. Students have the opportunity to earn a certificate or degree through more than 80 online program options at the undergraduate and graduate level.

“I am extremely proud of our faculty and our partnership with DELO, which allows us to produce such a great program,” Dr. Douglas Smith, Department Head of Sociology, said.

Dr. Smith teaches in the online master’s in criminology program and said that students in the program are typically adults working in the criminology field looking for a degree to advance their careers. The program began in 2008 and has had 21 graduates and currently has more than 50 students enrolled.

To determine its rankings, U.S. News analyzes data that reflects how an institution’s online bachelor’s programs are being delivered and their effectiveness at awarding affordable degrees in a reasonable amount of time.

“WKU achieved the number 2 ranking based on a high level of student engagement, faculty credentials and training, student services and technology and its peer reputation in distance learning,” Dr. Laves said.

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WKU ONLINE INTRODUCES ONLINE PRESENTATION COACHING

WKU Online is excited to announce the launch of our new Online Presentation Coaching Center. The Center provides opportunities for online learners to practice their online presentation skills, including delivery, presentation structure, and more technical aspects of presenting online, such as lighting, sound, recording and uploading the finished product. Participants receive feedback from a professor in WKU’s Department of Communication, allowing time for improvement before the final submission to the instructor.

The Online Presentation Coaching Center is also open to WKU alumni, and can be a useful tool in preparing workforce presentations.

For more information on the Online Presentation Coaching Center, please visit our Student Resource Portal at www.wku.edu/online/srp.

 

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