The New Reality

image of Paul Stewart

Campbell University’s launch of a new online degree program comes at a time when almost half of all undergraduate students are older than 22 and juggling work, marriage, family and school.

The stars had surely aligned for Paul Stewart.

It was 2004 — eight years after the Milwaukee Brewers made his dream come true by taking him in the 1996 Major League Baseball draft in the sixth round — and after a steady climb to the Triple-A level, Stewart was returning to the Triangle for a stint with the Durham Bulls. One year prior, he could smell the big leagues, pitching well for the Red Sox’ Triple-A team in Pawtucket, but he was ultimately passed up during the all-important September call-ups.

But Durham would be different. A native of Garner, where he excelled in both baseball and basketball at Garner High School in the mid-’90s, Stewart was coming home at the perfect time. He and his wife were expecting their first child, they were talking about buying a home, and Durham felt like the perfect springboard for the 26-year-old’s debut on the big stage.

This time though, life tossed him the curveball. That spring, Stewart couldn’t find his rhythm. He couldn’t get anybody out. And come the start of the 2004 season, he was cut by the Durham Bulls.

“My pitching coach called me the night before the final cuts and asked, ‘Stew … what do you have planned if baseball doesn’t work out?’” Stewart recalls. “I said, ‘Nothing. I was kinda hoping to do this for a while.’”

Durham didn’t mark the end of Stewart’s dream — he pitched two more seasons of Double-A and Triple-A ball for the Brewers and Pirates before hanging up his cleats at the end of the 2005 season. But his getting cut did mark the beginning of his thinking about life after baseball.

He tried his hand at sales. Tall, good-looking and personable, Stewart thought he could walk into most businesses and come away with a job. He was right about one thing — interviewers did love him. They just weren’t hiring him.

“They’d say, ‘We love you, we love you, but if it comes down to you and the next guy, and the next guy has a college degree, then management won’t fault me if I hire him,’” Stewart says. “If they went with me, it was more of a risk to them. So without that degree, doors were shutting in my face.”

That fall, he enrolled at North Carolina State University — the same school that heavily recruited him to play baseball out of high school before he opted for the pros — and found himself taking 100-level courses with 18-year-olds … a “humbling experience.” He soon learned about Campbell University’s Research Triangle Park campus and its program that was more suited for working adults. Classes there started at 5:15 p.m. and ended at 10, full semesters lasted eight weeks and many of their classes were offered online.

“It really fit me a whole lot better,” says Stewart, today a 2012 graduate of Campbell University with a degree in business administration. “And I did as much as I possibly could through online classes. We’d had our second child by then, and I remember doing homework on my laptop from the hospital. That was a big part of the lure — I could get my kids in bed, go downstairs and do the work. Or if I was having a slow day at my job, I could knock out an assignment there.”

Not long after Stewart earned his degree, Campbell University announced the launch of its first set of online degrees. Campbell had offered online courses for 15 years up until then, but the announcement meant complete degrees could be earned from the comfort of one’s home. Before, students like Stewart could only take up to 49 percent of their courses online.

The new, fully-online degree programs that will be offered through Campbell Online this fall are the Bachelor of Science in Psychology, Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice, Bachelor of Arts in Religion, Bachelor of Science in Information Technology Security, Bachelor of Science in Information Management, Bachelor of Business Administration, and Master of Science in Clinical Research.

Campbell also started offering online certificate programs. The first concentration is in Christian Studies, with other certificate concentrations expected to include organizational management and accounting in the near future. These certificates are designed to be add-ons for professionals or as entry points for individuals interested in pursuing a college degree.

“The goal is to better serve our students,” says John Roberson, Campbell’s dean of extended programs. “Moving to online education is a strategic decision positioning the University for growth and the development of new educational opportunities to meet the evolving needs of traditional and nontraditional students.”

Stewart earned his degree at Campbell in five years. Today, he is a virtual sales account manager with Cisco, a Fortune 500 company. The office he works in is located one floor up from one of the businesses that turned him down prior to his degree. Stewart finds comfort in that.

“I knew going in that Campbell would do everything in their power to help me,” he says, talking as he helps his son, the youngest of three children, pour a bowl of Cheerios. “The blended online program was great for me. I’m thrilled they’re going completely online.”

Kids are in bed, time for school

It was life as a military wife that put an extended pause on Stacy Bluhm’s college career.

She was about a year into life as a traditional college student when her boyfriend — now her husband — was in the military and transferred a few states away. In 2009, she returned to school in Pennsylvania to pick up an associate’s degree in business administration, but full-time employment and eventually the birth of the couple’s daughter (born in 2012) kept Bluhm from returning to school to pick up a four-year degree.

“My associate’s degree landed me a job [with Fortune 500 company United Services Automobile Association], but in order to climb in this career or in most cases find something along the same lines, I discovered I really needed to get a bachelor’s degree,” Bluhm says. “That four-year degree sets you apart in this field. It opens up a lot of opportunities.”

USAA offers its employees assistance with higher education, so Bluhm, who now lives in Jacksonville, N.C., didn’t want to let an opportunity pass her by. She considered returning to the “traditional route,” but the more she learned about Campbell — which has a campus at Camp Lejeune just minutes from her house — and its new online degree program, the more that seemed like a better fit.

“I’m the kind of person who likes to get things done at night,” says Bluhm, who started taking classes with Campbell in February. “It’s easier for me to do my work after I’ve worked, cooked dinner and put my daughter to bed. It’s the only time of my day that’s nice and quiet.”

Bluhm shares the same mindset with the nearly 80 new students who are taking part in Campbell’s new online degree program this fall. The average age of those students is 31 (Bluhm is in her late 20s), and they hail from 16 different states. Campbell’s Extended Programs department received a total of 442 inquiries about the program and received nearly 300 applications. Those numbers are expected to climb with each upcoming semester, says Roberson.

“The stereotypical image of the undergraduate student being 18 to 22 years old, living in a residence hall, eating in the cafeteria and attending classes in columned buildings is being challenged by a new reality,” he says. “The new reality is almost half of all undergraduates are older than 22 years and are nonresidential students. As many nontraditional students are juggling the responsibilities of work, marriage, family and school, they prefer the convenience of online learning. Campbell is embracing this new reality.”

Campbell established its extended program office in 1976 when it opened a campus on Fort Liberty and began offering online classes in 1999. While the number of students in the new degree program is relatively low, hundreds of students take at least one online course at Campbell each semester. Extended Programs enrolls nearly 1,400 students through both its online offerings and its physical campuses at RTP and on the military bases at Camp Lejeune, New River Air Station, Fort Liberty and Pope Army Airfield.

According to Katherine Spradley, director of Campbell University Online, the majority of online students are male, and many of them are either in the military, are married to somebody in the military or have a military background. In addition to business — both Stewart’s and Bluhm’s major — popular areas of study include criminal justice, homeland security and information technology.

“Many of our online students are active duty or veterans working toward meeting the requirements to gain rank in the military,” Spradley says. “And they tend to have higher GPAs on average. When you’re paying for your own education and relying less on mom and dad to foot the bill, you typically have a more mature and vested student.”

Professor David Wulff teaches criminal justice, homeland security and other courses online, and many of his students are military, which means their schedules can be tricky.

“It’s not uncommon to get an email from a student in Afghanistan who says they’ll be in the field the next five days, so an assignment may be late,” Wulff says. “Well of course it’s going to be late. I respond back, saying they’re getting shot at and protecting me … sure, they can be late on their work.”

Campbell’s strategy isn’t to become a mega online university that has hundreds of degree programs and enrolls tens of thousands of online students. Roberson says he wants class sizes to be small enough to allow proper professor-to-student communication — the same dynamic universities strive for in the “traditional” classroom. But new programs are on the horizon.

Meeting the growing demand for working adults led the College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences’ Department of Clinical Research to move toward a completely online program for its Master of Science in Clinical Research degree. And Roberson says he anticipates Campbell will add an online Master of Business Administration program as early as spring 2015. Other expected degree programs include a Bachelor of Applied Science in Clinical Research and an RN to BSN program, which allows registered nurses to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

As she approaches her fall workload, Bluhm says she “really loves” Campbell’s online set-up. She had her worries that she wouldn’t be challenged or learn as much as she would from a person-to-person classroom setting, but those doubts have been erased.

“It’s been more challenging, in fact,” she says. “But in a good way. Once you get your routine down, it gets easier. And I like that you can still ‘raise your hand’ and express your opinions like you can in a face-to-face classroom. I still talk with my classmates online. I still get to ask questions … it’s just done in a different way.”

No longer the wild, wild West

Trey Asbury’s students have included a medic in Afghanistan, a social worker in Japan and an occupational therapist in California.

Asbury, who came to Campbell in 2001 as an assistant professor of psychology and developed Campbell’s first online psychology course, moved to Texas in 2007 and has taught Campbell students online ever since.

That’s the beauty of online classes.

“The diversity can make for very interesting and educational conversations or threads on discussion board forums,” says Asbury, who lives in Fort Worth. “While these discussions are not unique to the online environment, I believe students are generally more open as they feel more inconspicuous online.”

Asbury is one of about 65 Campbell University Online faculty members, all of whom have earned at least a master’s degree, with nearly half holding a doctoral degree. According to Spradley, Campbell’s online faculty members are also gainfully employed in their fields of expertise and design their own courses.

“Adult students want a theorist who can design a class and engage the students by saying, ‘When I was doing this today, here is what transpired,’” Spradley said. “It’s the application and engagement piece each student seeks that our faculty provide.”

They also want an instructor who’s well prepared and understands what it takes to be an effective online professor. Asbury has completed several training programs for online educators and most recently completed an advanced course in Blackboard — the site Campbell uses to deliver its online course offerings — offered via Campbell’s Department of Online Education. He’s also taught online for Kaplan and Texas Christian University, with the Kaplan job requiring an additional 20 hours of training.

“There certainly is a lot more preparation for posting online content,” he says. “Podcasting alone can be very time-consuming.”

Asbury says he spends a ratio of about 60 minutes of prep to 10 minutes of product for a video podcast. This isn’t a problem for courses where the content remains relatively stable, he says, like a history or theories course, as the video can be recycled to other classes. However, most of the topics he covers deals with dynamic content and research findings.

“When I first began teaching online in 2002, it was like the wild, wild West,” he says. “There were no rules, and I suspect most of us didn’t really know what we were doing. The typical course involved posting exam and, review outlines, and having a few discussion board forums. Content requirements have been ramped up over the last few years as we strive to meet standards of accreditation bodies. While meeting these standards are rigorous, I believe it has made instructors a lot more accountable for the way they design and run their courses, and ultimately a better experience for the students.”

Wulff, who has been teaching online for two years after coming to Campbell in 2010, says the biggest difference between teaching online and in a classroom setting is being available at all hours of the day, all days of the week.

“You must be responsive,” he says. “One of the biggest frustrations for students is not having an instructor who responds in a timely manner. They can have a project due Wednesday and have a question on Monday, but it does them no good if the instructor doesn’t respond until Friday.”

Wulff says he tries to respond to emails the same day, within an hour if possible. He’s used to getting emails at 10 p.m. and later, and often, he’ll send responses well into the night.

“I know they have to appreciate that kind of thing,” he says. “It has to help them feel like they’re not alone out there.”

Testimonies like that are music to the ears of Roberson, who was tasked with launching the new online program when he took over Extended Programs in 2013. He says his faculty and staff have been “amazing” in their driven, dedicated efforts to produce a quality program.

And “produce” is a key word. While online courses have been available at Campbell since the late ’90s, launching a degree program has been as much of a challenge as launching a school.

“For all practical purposes, we are birthing a school,” Roberson says. “We have an admissions system and admissions procedures to construct, financial aid and veteran affairs processes to build, and student and academic support programs to create and launch. It’s a new and exciting opportunity for Campbell.”

— Cherry Crayton contributed to this report

Did you know?

  • In 2011, there were approximately 21 million college students and about 6.7 million (32 percent) were taking at least one online course. The growth rate of online enrollment continues to grow, while classroom enrollment saw its first decline in 2011 after years of steady growth.
  • Roughly one-third of online undergraduate students are of the traditional college age (18-24).
  • According to a recent survey, 44 percent of online graduates improved their employment standing (by obtaining a first-time, full-time or new job) and 45 percent received a salary increase or promotion within 12 months of their graduation date.
  • The largest proportion of undergraduate students enrolled in online degree programs overwhelmingly study business. Social sciences and the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM courses) are next, attracting one-third of online learners. The breakdown:
    • 36% — Business
    • 17% — Social Sciences
    • 16% — STEM
    • 14% — Health-related professions
    • 11% — Humanities, liberal arts
    • 5% — Education
    • 2% — Other

Source: “Online College Students 2013: Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences,” The Learning House Inc. and Aslanian Market Research

Campbell’s DECIDE gets licensed

The DECIDE Quality Certification Rubric used to guide Campbell University’s development and evaluation of all blended and online courses has been licensed.

“DECIDE certification signifies that the quality and rigor of Campbell University Online programs and courses are second to none,” said Katherine Spradley, director of Campbell University Online. “The process, which is included in the university’s Basic Blackboard Training course, ensures consistency across multiple delivery channels including online and blended formats by incorporating a peer review process, mentorship and academic department communication.”

First developed by Campbell in 2004, the DECIDE rubric grew out of a development review process. That review process included a checklist of items required by the university and considered to be among best practices in online education.

The acronym stands for the Development Evaluation of Course Integrity and Design Elements.

Campbell University Online is currently discussing the adoption of DECIDE with at least two other institutions.


Billy Liggett Editor
Cherry Crayton Contributing Writer
Bennett Scarborough Photography

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