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Distance Education promises new beginnings

Options are crucial in todayís fast-moving world, when it comes to making the dream of a university degree a reality. Early on, Minot State University strove to enable as many individuals as possible to achieve that dream through its continuing education program.

Adult education became increasingly important during the 1960s and to broaden its reach across the region, Minot State Teachers College started a continuing education program. Its mission was to help individuals who, because of job, family or location, could not attend classes in Minot.

By 1962, a variety of classes were offered to Minot Air Force Base airmen and dependents. The sessions were offered in quarterly formats or accelerated formats as requested. The Air Force Boot Strap Program was also implemented to help airmen attend college full time.

Through the decades, continuing education has maintained steady growth. In 1990, an interactive video network was added to allow students from the region to see, hear and correspond with an MSU instructor.

In 1997, MSU was the recipient of a $1.3 million Title III grant titled "Distance Education ... Bringing Educational Opportunities to Rural North Dakota." This was the seed money needed to get online education going.

The first online course, Business Information Technology 349, was introduced in April 1997 by the MSU Business Department. Other departments climbed on board, and by the end of the decade, MSU led NDUS in the development of online courses. MSU also responded to the nationís nursing shortage by offering a Bachelor of Science in Nursing for registered nurses in an online format. The expansion into online learning created a worldwide student audience.

Kathy Aas, community relations manager for Xcel Energy in Minot, took full advantage of MSUís online program. She completed her core classes at Minot Air Force Base in the evenings, while the remainder of her course work was done online. After eight years of diligent study, Aas completed her Bachelor of Science degree in management and marketing.

"I was looking at opportunities for career advancement," Aas said. "And I thought, ĎIf I donít do it now, Iíll never do it.í Online education was a fit. Without it, I could not have gotten my degree."

In 2001, the Division of Continuing Education became the Center for Extended Learning. Due to the expansion of courses and degree programs, a dean was added to administer the online program.

"Learners today want more flexible options," said Kris Warmoth, CEL dean. "Online learning gives them that opportunity. The demographics on campus are changing. Itís not a luxury anymore, itís what universities need to do to survive."

To read this article in its entirety, or other articles like this, check out the Spring 2014 issue of Connections Magazine [pdf].