Online graduate programs on the rise

For a growing number of students, an online program is about more than going to class in their pajamas. It’s also a way to work a master’s degree into an already hectic life.

When Nakia Eldridge wanted management skills to bolster her doctorate in pharmacy, an online program was the obvious choice. It gave her the flexibility to continue working at the University of Maryland Medical Center and to maintain some semblance of a life.

I can work from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and still make it home in time for dinner and class,” said Eldridge, a master’s candidate at Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. “All at the same time of receiving the same education offered in any other program.”

Air Force SSgt. Charles Millison chose Smith even though he’s stationed at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. The school’s reputation, along with the flexibility to work around frequent travel, convinced him.

Kristina Obom, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Biotechnology Education, said that program has seen students from all seven continents, including one who took classes while working at a research station in Antarctica. However, the program also appeals to students in the Metro DC area—Obom estimates that about half of the students are local.

The online format is comfortable for today’s students, who find themselves communicating with classmates through interactive threaded discussions and conducting group projects through wikis. “This is a generation that is used to communicating online,” Obom said.

Older students are enthused as well.  Connie Myers, 46, is enrolled in the clinical nurse specialist program at Johns Hopkins while working at the University of Michigan as a nurse educator. It’s not the first advanced degree she’s earned online—she completed a master’s in 2009.

Creating the Johns Hopkins program took years of planning to make sure the online version retained the quality of its on-site counterpart, interim coordinator Julie Stanik-Hutt said. It also took an approval process that is ongoing. The program had to receive permission to operate in every state in which students live—32 so far—and that usually meant going before multiple agencies.

Student education was involved, too. “The myth is that online is easier. It’s not.” Stanik-Hutt said.

In some ways it’s harder, because students have to take more responsibility to make sure they’re grasping what’s being taught. “If you have a question,” Stanik-Hutt said, “the faculty member isn’t going to see the puzzled look on your face and ask you.”



NAME: Nakia Eldridge

AGE: 38

HOMETOWN: Queens, N.Y., and Miami, Fla.

GRADUATE PROGRAM: University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business, master’s in business administration

PREVIOUS DEGREES:University of Miami, bachelor; University of Maryland, doctorate in pharmacy

CURRENT POSITION:Pharmacy manager, Women’s and Children’s Pharmacy at the University of Maryland Medical System

CAREER GOAL: A pharmacy director position

NAME: Charles Millison

AGE: 29

HOMETOWN: Basehor, Kan.

GRADUATE PROGRAM: University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business, master’s in business administration

PREVIOUS DEGREES: Southwestern College, Kansas, bachelors’ degrees in psychology and criminal justice

CURRENT POSITION:Survival, evasion, resistance and escape specialist, Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana

CAREER GOAL: A position with a defense contractor

NAME: Connie Myres

AGE: 46

HOMETOWN: Hudson, Michigan

GRADUATE PROGRAM: Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing clinical nurse specialist

PREVIOUS DEGREES: Ferris State University, Michigan, bachelor’s in nursing; South University, Georgia, master’s in nursing education

CURRENT POSITION: University of Michigan pediatric cardio-thoracic intensive care unit, nurse educator

CAREER GOAL: To continue working to educate pediatric ICU nurses