By Ellie Amador
When you’re a would-be college student stationed in Japan, earning a University of Tennessee degree has to take the nontraditional route. If the student can’t come to campus, UT Online brings the university to the student—anywhere around the world.
East Tennessee native Alisha Fitzpatrick has nearly 15 years of service in the U.S. Navy and has traveled to several continents in that time. Staying in one place long enough to complete an on-campus degree had always been a problem until UT Online offered a solution.
Currently stationed in Japan, Fitzpatrick is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in university studies through the University of Tennessee at Martin.
“When I’m doing homework in Japan, everyone in Tennessee is sleeping,” she says of the challenge presented by the 14-hour time difference.
When she graduates this year, she plans to pursue a master’s degree through one of UT Knoxville’s 19 web–delivered graduate programs leading to degrees and certificates.
“It’s tricky for adults with unusual and demanding schedules to find time for school, but the terrific thing about online education is there’s plenty of flexibility,” Fitzpatrick says.
Just as technology is transforming our world, it’s also breaking down barriers of time and distance for higher education, enabling a growing number of nontraditional students to finish degrees.
For UT, online programs solve the conflict created by the changing demands of students and the university’s need to educate more people with fewer resources. The average age of a UT undergraduate is 22. Graduate students average 32 years of age, and these older students often have increased family and professional responsibilities. They tend to have a “work first, school second” approach, and UT’s more than 40 web-delivered programs address their needs.
UT’s focus on web-based learning has resulted in increased program offerings and enrollment totals. Combined, UT’s five campuses enroll approximately 2,000 undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral students in online programs. UT Knoxville has more than doubled program offerings since 2000, and five more are under development. Online program enrollment at UT Chattanooga has grown 360 percent in the last 6 years. UT Martin graduates an average of 50 students each semester through online programs. The UT Health Science Center’s online doctor of nursing practice program was one of the nation’s first.
Lisa Todd, a summer 2009 graduate of UT Chattanooga’s master of elementary education program agrees with Fitzpatrick on the benefit of flexibility in online programs. She says the web-delivery format allowed her to go to school while maintaining a full-time teaching position in Hamilton County and rearing her three children.
“I was able to attend my daughters’ cheerleading competitions and soccer games because I completed my course work after they went to sleep,” Todd says. “Our family’s hectic schedule made it difficult to pick a set day of the week to go to school, but I knew continuing my education would open more career possibilities and allow me to better serve my students.”
Businesses also recognize the value of encouraging their employees to seek advanced training and are willing to reimburse them—even under the current economic difficulties.
Eastman Chemical Company executive Paul Montgomery says two of his employees are currently enrolled in the master’s degree program in engineering management offered through the UT Space Institute. Both are able to take advantage of the company’s tuition reimbursement program.
“This online degree allows our existing engineering workforce in Northeast Tennessee to hone business and management skills and meet our changing workplace needs through the same high-level training offered at UT’s campus in Tullahoma,” Montgomery says.
To learn more about UT’s online educational offerings, visit tennessee.edu/system/ut_online for a complete listing of programs and certificates.