Online graduate classes on the rise

A growing number of graduate students never need to set foot on University property to complete their GW education.

Over the past four years, the number of new students who entered a graduate-level distance education program run by GW over the Internet has nearly doubled and the number of online courses has almost tripled. Last year, 550 new graduate students entered 18 programs, and this semester alone, 365 graduate students enrolled in an online program, according to the Office of Institutional Research.

The School of Medicine and Health Sciences accounted for more than half of all online programs offered. The College of Professional Studies, the Graduate School of Education and Human Development and the School of Business also offer online graduate classes.

“The distance education format actually fits the learning model for most students in a much better way,” said Joe Bocchino, chair of the department of clinical management and leadership in the School of Medicine, who teaches both online and face-to-face classroom sessions. “We know that adults have to be ready to learn, that the learning process has to be on their terms, and that it has to be relevant to their world for it to be accessible.”

Sean McNelis, a 36-year old Boston resident who is wrapping up his first session toward a master’s degree in the clinical research administration program, said he was drawn to online education because of its compatibility with his lifestyle and career needs.

“I was in need of a higher degree to advance at my current employer, and I could not afford to take off for classes,” McNelis said.

He added that online learning is not without its weaknesses.

“You don’t get the face time or the personal mentoring, but if you are motivated it can work,” he said.

Distance education is also particularly enticing for graduate business students, said Zeev Kilchtok, admissions adviser for GW’s online health care MBA program.

“As a graduate student you’re more likely to be busier with work or family than an undergrad, and an online education program gives you an opportunity to balance that out,” he said.

Bocchino said the skills learned in an online classroom are becoming increasingly desirable in the work force.

“A lot of the learning that happens in the workplace is done through electronic formats, so if you can hone those skills before you can go work somewhere, you will have a leg up,” he said.

More so than undergraduates, graduate students are likely to excel in distance education and benefit from its structure.

“At the graduate level it works much better because you have a group of students who are now coming back to school because they want to be in school, not because they have to be,” Bocchino said. “They are also coming back after having been in the workplace and know more about discipline.”

Initially, there was some uncertainty surrounding the quality of graduate business degrees that could be offered online.

“There was a bit of hesitancy in terms of what the degree would mean to the reputation of the school or whether an employer would see an online degree as inferior to an on-campus degree,” Kilchtok said.

Bocchino highlighted the medical school’s rigorous quality control efforts.

He said, “We have professors that are cognizant that they must maintain academic integrity and robustness, to make it known that they’re not seen as a degree mill.”

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