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Distance learning on rise at WKU

BOWLING GREEN — Rhanda Lee is a college student without a class in the traditional sense.

Lee rarely sets foot in a classroom at Western Kentucky University, where she's a junior and on course to graduate early.

Instead, she has been doing schoolwork online — a method of learning that's growing in popularity at the college. School officials say the program saw a 42 percent increase in enrollment last year and 25 percent more already this year.

"I can sit at my computer in my pajamas and not worry about going to class," Lee said. "And I could take on more of a workload because I am able to get my work done at my own pace."

The program allows students to register at any time for the classes and provides them with eight weeks to a year to complete the course. Depending on the professor's setup of the class, students may e-mail or mail in assignments; others complete them entirely on the Internet.

Amanda McGaughey, assistant director of independent learning, said the growth of the program, formerly known as correspondence studies, is because of the increase in the number of classes offered as well as the spur in awareness among faculty and students.

In the last year, the program has added 20 classes to the 50 already available. McGaughey said at least seven more will be offered in the spring.

"A lot of non-traditional students are juggling full-time work, a family and school," she told The Daily News in Bowling Green.

Students can't start and finish a degree program completely online — yet. McGaughey said that's a goal that will be met soon.

She said the program attracted 47 faculty members teaching the classes from 19 departments, in an effort to make some of the classes that fill up quickly on campus available to students who are having difficulty registering for them.

The courses are open to anyone, including people not enrolled at WKU, for the $289 in-state tuition per credit hour.

"There is a definite need for it as students are more mobile," McGaughey said. "I had one student who said with gas prices, they can't afford to keep driving to campus. So they took courses to supplement their load so they're not on campus every day."

Lee, who also works in the independent-learning office, said she has seen a number of women have babies and continue their educations at home while tending to their newborns.

"It can put you at an advantage, but you definitely have to have self-discipline to get the lessons completed," said Lee, who is currently working on her third independent-study course. "If you're just looking for an easy way out, I wouldn't recommend it."