UNC Online a Popular Option as Students Seek New Ways to Earn Degrees

Earning a university degree or certificate is more important than ever. Research shows that having a postsecondary credential is essential for securing personal financial security. UNC Online programs are designed to allow students to access crucial educational opportunities in flexible ways that are compatible with their work and family responsibilities.

Patrice Addertion, 53, an alumna of East Carolina University, entered nursing with an associate’s degree. But Addertion needed a bachelor of nursing (BSN) degree to further her career. As a working nurse already, time was at a premium.

“I had done a lot of the prerequisites in the classroom before,” she said. “When I decided to go back to school, I took the actual nursing classes online, which allowed me to finish.”

Addertion was living in Morehead City and had completed some of the coursework for ECU’s BSN program already. She moved to Raleigh about the same time as there was a resurgence in people earning their BSNs, so it was logical for her to continue with the ECU online nursing program.

“I had most of my classes done for ECU, so it made sense to stick with that,” she said. “I was able to log in and do the work at my leisure. There was no set time in having to get my assignments, so it allowed for a lot of flexibility.”

Students are also taking advantage of online opportunities to earn graduate degrees.

To advance her career in banking, Halia Babchuk was encouraged by her company to get her MBA. But as a project manager for Bank of America in Charlotte, the only way she could complete the degree and also keep up with her work was online.

Susan Licher was in the same boat. She was looking to earn a second Master’s degree in order to move into a new field, career counseling. However there wasn’t a compatible program for her to attend near Columbia, S.C.

Both Babchuk and Licher, like thousands of others, are now earning advanced degrees through online programs at UNC system schools. UNC Online offers prospective students the chance to explore the wide variety of certificates and undergraduate and graduate degrees available through the 16 universities in the UNC system. Interested students can explore hundreds of courses and programs on the site.

Babchuk and Licher, both in their 30s, had limited experience with online learning before they entered their respective programs.

Babchuk completed her MBA in December at East Carolina University, even though she lives four hours away.

“I like the school’s ranking for its value,” she said. “I like it for the convenience and because it was affordable. Because I’m a project manager, my schedule wouldn’t allow me to go to school in person. I never would have had the opportunity to earn my MBA without the online program.”

Licher needed to attend classes online for similar reasons, since she also had a regular job. While looking for online graduate programs in career counseling, the only accredited program she found was at North Carolina Central University. Licher, who is scheduled to graduate in May 2017, said she wanted to enter a reputable program.

“This program gives me the flexibility to take the classes I want. I like the way the career counseling program has been set up,” Licher said.

Online Options Become More Popular

Awareness of UNC Online has grown steadily over the years, and is a key initiative as part of the “Our Time, Our Future” strategic directions plan.

UNC Online offers nearly 400 online degree and certificate programs from across the 16 higher education institutions of the UNC system at the bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral, and certificate levels.

UNC Online programs build on the University’s experience to deliver flexible, innovative educational options that meet the needs of North Carolina’s learners and are taught by world-class faculty. Today there are more than 25,000 fully online students across the system, and nearly 100,000 students taking online courses.

Beyond helping students find online degree programs within the UNC system, UNC Online is useful for students who are taking classes the traditional way but want to find a class not available at their home campus to fill degree or elective requirements. Courses offered through UNC Online allow these students the flexibility to register for online classes at another UNC institution each semester, and helps them find course equivalencies so credit will transfer back to their home institution.

About 40 percent of undergraduate and graduate students in the University system take at least one online class each year, and 12 percent of credit hours are offered online.

Students like Licher and Babchuk represent the 20 percent of graduate students who pursue their degrees exclusively online.

 ”The University of North Carolina has set a goal of increasing the number of adult North Carolinians with a college degree from 26 percent to 37 percent by 2025,” said Matthew Rascoff, the UNC vice president who oversees online learning. “To meet the needs of North Carolina, we need to provide high-quality online and blended programs that offer the flexibility today’s students need to obtain a degree.”


How it Works

Students who complete their degrees online are enrolled at one of the University system’s campuses and complete the same coursework as a student who attends on-campus classes, and are taught by the same faculty. In the 2013-14 academic year, 22.1 percent of the UNC system’s 15,628 faculty members (and 25.2 percent of tenured and tenure-track faculty) taught at least one course online. About 4.9 percent of system faculty taught exclusively online.

Online programs offer degrees and certificates that are indistinguishable from campus-based programs. When considering an advanced degree, Babchuk had no problem convincing Bank of America to support her online education.

She said, “Because of my research on ECU, I felt very comfortable going there. I can do everything online, and I can do it from home. Why would someone not want to go to school this way?”

Students interested in bachelor’s degree completion programs offered through UNC Online are typically required to have approximately 60 hours of prerequisite college-level credit, depending on the campus and program.  Graduate degree and certificate prerequisite information is also provided on the UNC Online site and varies by program.

Faculty members who teach online courses believe students are receiving the same quality education that they would otherwise receive in a regular classroom.

“Online students are a little more self-motivated, because they have to be,” said Alfreda Harper-Harrison, coordinator of the RN-BSN online program at Winston-Salem State University. “They seek out information and ask more questions. It’s more self-paced, guided learning. Students have to be engaged in the course throughout the week, but because of the flexibility of the program, they are not required to come in at a certain time.”

The online nursing program at WSSU allows students to get practical experience at medical facilities in their area rather than drive to Winston-Salem, Harper-Harrison said.

“The program really caters to nurses who have been out of school for a while,” she said. “Our students love it, love the flexibility of it. They love the added technology, because the tech can be used in other areas.”

”In the next few years we will grow our online programs and continue to improve the support we provide our online students,” Rascoff said. “We want to deliver all the resources our institutions provide – advising, career services, networking opportunities – in formats that work for our online learners.”


Written by Phillip Ramati, Staff Writer