Considering online learning? This 40-year-old married, state government employee who is getting his M.B.A. online at Aspen University says wholeheartedly, "Go for it and don't let another year go by!"

Abner hopes to advance his career and make himself more marketable in a rapidly changing business world by pursuing a graduate degree while working full-time.

"I believe my degrees will help me survive and adapt in the future," he says. Like many online students, Abner has taken advantage of the great flexibility that distance learning provides to further an education begun on a traditional campus. He amassed 102.5 credits, earning his first degree - an associate of arts degree in liberal studies - in 1992 from a traditional brick-and-mortal school, Cypress College, after attending part-time over an eight year period.

In the years that followed, Abner supplemented his education with courses from a variety of institutions, including 18 credits through the University of Iowa's distance Bachelor of Liberal Studies program. In March 2005, he enrolled in California Coast University, a nationally-accredited distance learning institution that caters to adult students who are seeking to advance their careers.

He was able to transfer in most of his prior college credits, and quickly graduated with his Bachelor of Science in Management in December 2006.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Abner has wasted no time moving on to his next degree, an M.B.A. from Aspen University, nationally-accredited and based in Denver, Colorado, that he hopes to complete in 2009.

He says, "The job market is changing rapidly, and the only way to make it is via education." In his particular department, Workforce Development, in order to qualify for either management positions or higher-level positions in other government agencies, he needs an advanced degree: a master's degree.

In addition, working for the state government, he has concerns that this state agency could become privatized in the future.

"If my agency is privatized," he says, "I wish to be well prepared, and, for me, education is what will make me stand out among my peers." Abner also adds, "Moreover, pursuing an education ties into my love of learning. I think what inspires me to study and learn is a feeling of pride and accomplishment."

Ultimately, the convenience of distance learning is what appeals to Abner. He notes, "I can study and submit lessons when it is good for me. Working full-time and attending class at a traditional, brick-and-mortar university is very difficult."

At a traditional university, he might have trouble getting his work schedule to mesh with the class schedules. For Abner, taking online classes through Aspen means limited course offerings are not an issue: "I don't have to worry about taking some class that is only available from 7 to 10 pm, two or three times a week!"

It also means being able to balance school, work, and his personal life in a way that allows him to enjoy life: "I usually do assignments and study when I get home from work in the evening, or on the weekend. The great thing about distance learning is assignments can be submitted via email or fax anytime of the day or night. Many times I hand write an assignment, go to dinner with my wife, and then type out the assignment in Word or Excel when I get back."

Two modes of online courses are available at Aspen, online interactive and online independent.

For his first class, Abner has chosen the online independent option, which gives him maximum flexibility. "The class is 8 weeks, with an additional 2 weeks if necessary," he says. "There are 8 modules per class, so basically I am trying to shoot for 1 assignment a week." He expects to spend about two hours each night, plus time on weekends, to complete the homework.

Abner may be studying independently, but he has plenty of support. His teacher "always responds very quickly" to his questions, he says. In addition, he is part of a community of online learners through online distance learning discussion forums, such as DegreeDiscussion.com, DegreeInfo.com, or the eLearners Community.

He recommends them for any online student who misses the direct classroom participation of a traditional school. "A good supplement for a distance learner is to join a reputable distance learning forum where he or she can feel like part of a group," he asserts. "The other advantage of being in a distance learning forum is having access to fellow students, teachers and distance learning experts in general. Whenever you have a question, all you have to do is ask."

His advice to prospective online students: "If you are currently in a situation where you cannot make it to a brick-and-mortar school, check into distance learning right away."

Not surprisingly, this business student also recognizes the many financial advantages of distance learning. He points out that many of the fees charged by traditional schools, such as for health services or parking, don't exist at online universities.

Abner wisely adds, "Choose only a school that is properly accredited and recognized."

Abner estimates the entire cost of his higher education, from his A.A. through his M.B.A., will cost approximately $20,000. He has paid for it out of his own pocket, but he notes that some schools have very accommodating payment plans that help you manage the cost.

"There are schools like California Coast University, for example, where a student can make a down payment of $500, and $100 monthly payments will be deducted from his or her credit card or checking account. This payment plan is done with no interest!"

"Think about it," he continues. "Many people can easily spend $100 a month at Starbucks!"


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