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Interview: Lynne Ballard, Dean of Continuing Professional Studies, Champlain College

l-ballardchamplain-college.jpgLynne Ballard, Dean of Continuing Professional Studies at Champlain College, joins us today to discuss distance education.

Tell us about the distance learning programs offered at Champlain College.

The Division of Continuing Professional Studies began offering fully online associate and bachelor's degrees and professional certificates in 1993. The degrees in our division, which are designed for adults, follow Champlain College's 130 year tradition of serving the professional and career development needs of students.

Our online degrees include:

• Accounting,
• Business Management,
• Computer Forensics and Digital Investigations,
• Computer & Information Systems,
• Networking and Information Security,
• Professional Studies,
• Software Development, and
• Website Development & Administration.

To view our online programs visit us here.

Next academic year, we're also launching new undergraduate and graduate degrees and professional certificates in Healthcare Management, which include many healthcare-specific management courses as well as courses which look at the role of IT in performance improvement - in keeping with the changes the Obama administration is supporting.

What is the typical duration of each of your programs?

Since we are a division that serves adult learners, our programs offer a lot of flexibility. Our online courses range in length from seven weeks to longer, depending on the nature of the course and the level. As long as a student remains enrolled, and in good standing, there is not a cut-off date for the completion of their degree.

What would you say makes Champlain College programs different and better than other comparable online programs?

The most important thing we do in our programs is offer students relevant content and learning opportunities. Students are asked to apply what they learn in our courses to real-world organizations and situations and integrate their studies with their professional work lives. Students often use their homework assignments to create projects for work and this enables them to practice new skills and advance their standing in their organization at the same time!

Our adult students benefit from our experience as a small, 130 year-old bricks and mortar college, where we know what their personal challenges are and we work creatively to assist them in staying enrolled until they graduate. We also offer what some of the much larger online universities offer including a fantastic online library, excellent teachers who are also successful professionally, a range of student services support, career advising and other resources you would find if you were a campus-based student. To summarize what makes us "different and better," I'd say that our division combines what's best about the old and the new in higher education for those who want to advance their careers.

How important would you say accreditation is when choosing an online college?

Accreditation is extremely important. Given the enormous sacrifices adults make in time and money to get their degree, students should make very sure that their degree will have the respect of the marketplace over the life of their career. Accreditation indicates that the institution meets or exceeds criteria for the assessment of institutional quality which is periodically applied through a peer-review process. Champlain College is accredited by the New England Association of Schools & Colleges (NEASC).

Accreditation also means that a school or college has the necessary resources to achieve its stated purposes and gives reasonable evidence that it will continue to have them in the foreseeable future.

There is some debate as to whether or not online degrees are as worthwhile as traditional degrees. What steps does Champlain College take to ensure that online students are receiving the same education that they'd receive in a classroom?

First, all of our online courses and degrees offer the same content and curriculum offered in our campus-based programs. Everything we offer online has been peer-reviewed and approved by the Faculty Senate and the College's administration and trustees.

We design our courses and programs in ways which ensure that students actually learn what we intend for them to learn. We train our faculty to be active and engaging teachers and we perform many activities which monitor course quality and student learning. The quality of our students' experiences in their classes is our most important priority. Period.

I've taught in the face-to-face and online classroom and, personally, I'm more excited about the student growth and learning I observe in the online classroom. Online classes necessarily require a heavy amount of reading and writing and because writing and thinking are so inextricably linked, online students see huge improvements in their critical thinking and writing skills in addition to the subject matter content they master.

What would you say are some of the benefits of earning a degree online rather than in a traditional classroom?

The convenience of online education cannot be overstated when your students are adults as ours are. Our students have jobs, families, children, elderly parents, community responsibilities and all sorts of other obligations in addition to their class work. With online courses, class is in session for them whenever their schedule permits. Late at night, early in the day or during lunch - students regularly interact with their instructors and fellow students. It's just not "real time" unless the instructor has synchronous "office hours" or "live chats," which for the most part are optional.

The other huge benefit is the professional networking opportunity. Students get insights in the practices of organizations other than their own. They get an opportunity to study with students across the country and they forge personal and professional friendships. Believe me, in an online class, people get to know each other and their views and experiences.

If a student enrolled in one of your programs was interested in finding an internship in their field in their area, do you have any means of assisting them in acquiring an internship position?

We do work with students interested in internship opportunities, depending on the program. Since we work with adult students who typically can't do internships because of their employment or other obligations, as I mentioned earlier, we make sure our programs include a significant amount of work-based learning.

Does Champlain College offer any job placement services to your students and graduates?

All Champlain students have lifetime access to the college's nationally-recognized Career Services staff, cited by Kaplan/Newsweek College Catalog as "one of the best career services by a U.S. college." The services we offer students include self-assessment tools, individual career advising, r��sum�� development assistance, and help with successful job search and interviewing strategies. We want to help all our students achieve their goals not only as students, but as Champlain alumni.

Is financial aid available to students in your programs?

Yes. Financial aid awards are made upon registration. The Federal Stafford Loan Program requires that students be enrolled at least half-time (six credits per semester). Even if a student is enrolled less than half-time, financial aid may be available. Our counselors are very knowledgeable in this area, and can provide guidance on available options for financial aid.

We also offer flexible payment options and we work with students whose employers offer tuition benefits by deferring a substantial amount of their tuition until their grades are in.

Champlain College is also approved for veterans by the State Board of Education. Eligible veterans should contact the Financial Aid Office prior to registration. Champlain is also a DANTES affiliate and can be found in the DANTES External Degree Catalog in print or online. We encourage students in the military to call us to pursue education options, and benefit from the convenience of our online programs.

Do you have any advice for students enrolling in online classes for the first time?

First, do all the things you would do to check out any school. Be sure it is accredited. Learn as much as you can about the program you are interested in and the nature of the instructors. Be sure that the professional content of the program is "up to date" and relevant in the real world and that the general education component of the program is thoughtfully constructed to support you over your lifetime and the life of your career.

Next, consider whether online delivery matches your strengths. Successful online students are self-motivated to graduate! They are committed to meeting course requirements, can manage their time to make sure that their coursework and other responsibilities get accomplished. They are comfortable with reading and writing as the main mode of communication and they are willing to be highly interactive with their instructors and fellow students.

While it's very flexible, online learning is not easier or less time-consuming than on-campus learning. I think the total time investment is about the same. Students should be willing to dedicate several hours per week to "attending" class online and completing course assignments. The good news is because students can often make the assignments in their professional courses at Champlain relevant to their workplace, "attending class" can also help them make progress at work.

Another helpful hint for online students is to plan the course out ahead of time with respect to its workload. Giving yourself a two-day buffer when assignments are due is a good strategy. It comes in handy when "life happens" and there is an assignment due that day!

What do you enjoy most about your position at Champlain College?

I've spent my whole career in the adult education field and I've had opportunities to leave it, but no other work means as much to me. Educating adults profoundly changes them, their families, their organizations and their communities. People come to Champlain for career advancement and to learn new knowledge and skills. They graduate amazed at how truly transformed they are in ways they never expected.

When you are the dean of a unit like Champlain's Division of Continuing Professional Studies, you have the indescribable opportunity to imagine "what could be" for your adult learners. And in my case, I work with a team of top notch professionals who share the same values and passions - the most important one being that students come first. We work tirelessly to "make it happen" for our students and give them the best we can. While it is exciting and fulfilling for adults to be students, it can also be tough. Our students make enormous sacrifices in their personal lives and in time away from their families, not to mention financially, too. Believe me, there's nothing better than seeing our students graduate and recognizing their achievements!

Thank you Lynne, for sharing and participating in this piece.

That concludes our interview!

For more information on the art programs available at Champlain College, visit them online.

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