Squeezing college into a busy schedule

March 10, 2008 10:41:47 AM PDT
For many people, going to college seems impossible because they simply don't have the time.But some local fire fighters have found a way to do it, even though they work unusual hours and have very busy schedules.

Education reporter Art McFarland has the story.

Robert Noonan volunteers in the Hempstead Fire Department and works full-time as a fire lieutenant in Garden City.

He's a family man and he goes to college...online.

"It gives me a lot of flexibility," he said. "I kind of can come and go when I have the time available."

He takes one course at a time towards a bachelor's degree in fire science from Columbia Southern University, an online school that is accredited.

He says it's very different from his college years ago.

"At Arizona State University, I might have a classmate I could tap on if I had a problem with something, or I could reach out to the instructor," he said. "Here, I need to be a little more self-motivated."

"It's a little unusual," online student Tim Kelly said. "You're your own boss."

Kelly also attends Columbia Southern. He's a fire fighter at Brookhaven National Lab.

"I probably wouldn't be able to get a degree conventionally," he said.

Kelly and Noonan want the degree to advance in their jobs. Everything is online, including getting and submitting assignments, as well as communicating with teachers and classmates.

The number of college students taking online courses has mushroomed in recent years, to the point where about 20 percent currently take at least one online course.

Professor Anthony Picciano studies online learning. He is active in the Sloan Consortium, an organization of 1,000 colleges and universities dedicated to research and development of online learning models. He is also a member of its Board of Directors.

"Online courses can be as good as the bricks and mortars classes," he said. "A lot of this depends upon the person teaching."

Picciano says online students should look for a college with a good reputation, small classes and at least some full-time faculty.

Which students tend to do well?

"Students who are a little more mature, who are disciplined and directed in terms of what they want to do," Picciano said.

Students like Noonan and Kelly.

I'm going to continue," Kelly said. "It's working for me and my schedule."

For more information on Columbia Southern University, click here

For more on the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, click here