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Studying online can lead to degree

Alabama education officials are cracking down on the exploding market for Internet college courses and degrees, taking action against four Birmingham-based online colleges.

The target of this crackdown in non-accredited courses, but Marengo Countians can pursue a college degree from the comfort of their homes, from colleges around the world or in their own community.

To avoid a fly-by-night operation, would-be students should contact the college of their choice and see if they are accredited. They can also contact the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS or visit its Web site at www.sacs.org. SACS gives accreditation for colleges and universities throughout the South.

Locally, Alabama Southern Community College offers online courses. Although ASCC does not yet offer online degrees, the courses can be applied towards a college degree.

“We offer classes that range from history courses to economics courses,” said John Lehning, an instructor at AASC. “It gives a person the opportunity who would normally never have the opportunity, time-wise. The online courses cost the same as a traditional course. A lot of schools charge more. In fact, the courses that I’m taking now are very expensive.”

Lehning is taking courses from Capella University in Minnesota to each his Ph.D.

“I’ve been taking those courses for two years,” he said. “Right now, I’m just four courses short. Online courses means that you could begin your coursework at 2 in the morning or 2 in the afternoon, depending on what your schedule is. It gives you that flexibility. The trade-off is: If you’re not disciplined, you’re going to have problems. If you can’t study on your own, you’re going to have problems. You have the ownership and the responsibility, the accountability.

“We have Web CT or Blackboard. It’s a media device that allows you to interact with the instructors. They have assignments that are online, and they have instructions there. They have links to sites that you should be looking at. We look up what the assignments are during the week and plan. As it is with any course, it’s all about time management.

Dee Lott of Demopolis completed his degree through online courses offered through Troy University, He is now pursuing a master’s degree at the University of Alabama through traditional courses.

“I wanted to go back and finish my degree,” he said. “One problem I had was that I have a birth defect in my hand, and I don’t write well. With the prompting of others, I started to explore distance learning, something I was interested in. Doing all of my classes through a computer, typing all of my assignments, I was able to go to school in Montgomery without leaving Demopolis. It was a great convenience all the way around.

“I had teachers from Georgia and teachers from California, but they taught for Troy. I could take my courses whenever I wanted to. If I was up and wanted to take a course at 3 a.m., I could — and sometimes did!

“I had some classes where one guy was on an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf. It is literally a wide-pen campus. I still get Christmas cards from some of my professors!”

Lott finished his bachelor of science degree in psychology through Troy’s online courses, and is currently doing social work through Alabama towards his master’s degree.

Alexius White of Demopolis is taking online graduate courses through the University of West Alabama.

“I’ve found that taking online classes is easier than actively taking on-campus classes this year,” she said. “When I was an undergraduate student, I was a full-time student and a part-time worker, but now, it’s the opposite. Also, the cost is so much less than being on campus. One online grad class is half of what I would be paying to stay on campus this year.”

For information about Alabama Southern’s online courses, contact director Angela Manse at (334) 287-0174 or visit ASCC’s Web site at www.ascc.edu.