Virtually Improving Education
For the Wilson family, a college degree became a moot goal when their first daughter was born two years ago. Then add a second little one, and you can say 'sweet dreams' to that idea.
"I wouldn't have time to go to a day school. I just couldn't do it," said virtual student Mary Wilson.
A night school wouldn't be practical either, but how about a school from your living room? It's a concept sweeping the nation - with a base in mid-Missouri.
"It's done a lot of good things for Columbia College," said Gary Massey from Columbia College.
Columbia College didn't revolutionize the online school concept, but it did help build on it. Columbia College has 32 campuses nationwide and virtual students all across the world.
Of its nearly 25,000 total students, 60 percent - that's 15,000 of them - are online students. They are all in a program that started only seven years ago.
"And a few classes turned into a few degrees, a few degrees turned into a lot of degrees. And right now in one eight week session we run 500 courses online, and we do that five times a year," said Massey.
And that adds up to a lot of money. With tuition costs a little steeper for online courses than the traditional classroom costs, Columbia College now rakes in well more than half of its tuition fees from the online school.
"With the online program, the way it's grown, we've created large revenue streams for the college. We can re-invest in technology, we can re-invest in resources," explained Massey.
Not far down the street the University of Missouri runs an online school as well. Mizzou's program enrolls slightly fewer students than Columbia College's, but it also offers middle school courses and high school degrees.
For MU's program, all the money the online courses make is funneled right back into the online program. So, online students are paying for their education. And not everyone else's.
"It's very fulfilling to me," said virtual school professor Bill Carney. He enjoys teaching the students who otherwise wouldn't have the chance to pursue a college degree.
"I find the adult students to be just a fascinating group of people," explained Carney. "I find them to be very motivated. I find them to be very interested in what's going on. I find them to be very inquisitive."
"One of my favorite stories is a student I had a few sessions ago. He was an over-the-road truck driver. Never, ever thought he'd have the ability to go to college, but at the big truck stops and the Wi-Fi he takes his laptop and he accesses his courses while he works," said Massey.
And for Mary Wilson, the mother of two, she can now pursue her dreams of a history degree, and eventually become a college history professor.
"It makes college education a lot more conceivable than it would be normally," said Wilson.
Columbia College works closely with the military, and many of its students are soldiers on the front lines in Iraq.