The Herald News - Getting an online education

The Herald News - Getting an online education

BOSTON -- For many people juggling with the idea of continuing an education that was left behind many years ago, after the wedding, the kids and the new job came along, UMassOnline, a Web-based learning division of the University of Massachusetts system, has the perfect plan for you.

UMassOnline, established in 2001, provides more than 37 graduate and undergraduate programs online, including more than 300 courses through the continuing education departments at UMass Amherst, Boston, Dartmouth and Lowell.

"Institutions that deliver only traditional programs write off a large and important segment of the population, such as working professionals," said UMassOnline CEO David Gray.

"With two children a full-time job and a lawn to mow, continuing my education was never anything I thought possible," said Leslie Granese, enrolled in the master's degree program for business administration at UMassOnline. "These courses enable us to see our kids at home, to be a mom, but also be able to fulfill these courses at our own pace."

The UMass Dartmouth Campus Division of Continuing Studies has 15 online courses available through its campus, including English, nursing, physics, sociology and women's studies, with more being added each semester.

"I do believe it is the wave of the future, but I don't believe it will completely take the place of a face-to-face classroom just yet," said Nancy Vanasse, marketing and special program coordinator for UMass Professional Continuing Education. "The courses are great for the students because it forces them to articulate what they are saying because they are e-mailing it instead of just saying it spontaneously. It makes them think more logically and in sequence."

Gray sees little difference between the traditional classroom teaching and the online courses.

"The major thing is a Web-based approach to learning, where the professors take all the course materials they would usually dictate through lectures and instead move them into these online courses," said Gray. "The courses and learning objectives are the same, but for all our busy, adult students who work full time and have families, the courses can be worked at in the evenings or the weekends, or whatever time they can spare."

Graduates of UMassOnline take part in the same graduation ceremonies that traditional graduates do and students' transcripts contain the same course identifications that normal classes do, with no notation of any kind of a particular class that was taken online.

The online courses include chapter quizzes and timed tests, and homework assignments, much like the contemporary classroom.

"We admit some of the personal approach is lost in an online format, but we overcome that with continual e-mails, live online chat groups and personal directories that tell the students a little bit about each other," said Gray. "Our students and professors both find that they have much more communication with each other from the online classes than they ever did with the face-to-face classroom."

UMassOnline has seen its numbers increase dramatically over the last three years, from revenues exceeding $7.8 million in 2002 to $9.1 million in 2003 to $12.7 million so far this fiscal year. Enrollments reached 14,787 this year, up from 11,239 during the same period in 2003.

The courses cost anywhere from $500 per class up to $1,800 for master's degree level courses, about 10 percent higher than a traditional course. All typical entrance admission criteria is followed for all on-ine courses and financial aid is also available.

"These courses offered online are a model of education that meets the needs of busy people," said Gray. "The convenience factor is hugely important and online education will continue to drive ahead, moving into a world where employers and employees continue to pursue an advancement in their education."

Jay Pateakos may be reached at

Date: 04/28/04