By Conie McDougall

Fifth grade teacher Judy Cain is earning her SPU master's degree online from her home in Eastern Washington. "It's phenomenal," she says. "This is a big step in making education accessible."

In 2001, Judy Cain will earn her master's degree in education from SeattlePacific University, and shewill have done it entirely online from the comfort of her home in Monitor, Washington.

Along with other students from the states of Washington, Alaska, California and Montana, Cain is part of the first group to enroll in a pioneering program: a master's degree offered entirely via the Internet.

Another innovative program SPU launches this year is the Degree Completion Program, or "DCP," in organizational behavior. One who will take full advantage of it is Jennifer Faulkner Fry. She plans to complete a bachelor's degree begun at Seattle Pacific nearly 30 years ago. "Like so many people, I got married and raised a family. I've taken classes through the years, and now I'm ready to finish my degree."

Fry will join the first cohort to enter the DCP this Winter Quarter. Designed for working adults, the program offers evening courses and the assurance of completing a bachelor of arts degree within two years.

In a brave new world of education with "online universities" and non-traditional forms of course delivery becoming increasingly common SPU didn't make the decision to go forward with the new programs lightly.

"We've had many discussions about the academic integrity of the Degree Completion Program," says Assistant Professor of Psychology Jeff Joireman, who will teach DCP classes. "If the faculty was going to support it, it had to be rigorous."

Rob McKenna, newly hired director of the DCP, also had to be convinced of its pedigree before coming on board. A 1992 graduate of Seattle Pacific's MBA program who received his Ph.D. in organizational psychology from Claremont Graduate University, McKenna has strong feelings on the subject. "This had to have everything a traditional bachelor's degree at SPU has. Degree mills merely patch classes together, build something on the side. That's not what's happened here," he says.

The University has made the program "adult-learner-friendly," however. Students stay in their cohort group for accelerated courses that meet on campus two evenings a week for 10 weeks each quarter. Meanwhile, they're able to work or fulfill other life commitments.

The online master's degree program also serves working adults. Online learning is made possible through video lectures downloaded by students, email communication and web discussion groups.

Cain is delighted she can earn her master's degree this way. With three kids and a full-time job as a fifth grade teacher, she can't drive across the mountains for school. "I don't want to give up being a mom," she says. "I want to be a part of what my kids are doing and this allows me to do that."

Professionally, the program will sharpen her skills as a teacher and keep her abreast of changes in education.

Cain knows there are naysayers about online education. "The person who really had to be persuaded was me. I had to think about this as a commitment of my time and money. Is an online degree something that I can be proud of? I decided this is a very exciting opportunity that I wouldn't have otherwise. I think SPU is very creative to offer it."

A powerful argument in favor of the online degree is access, says Roger Long, assistant to the dean for graduate enrollment and programs in the School of Education. "I've advised students who have no other way to earn an advanced degree."

Access is important to the Degree Completion Program as well. "I have a family and a career," says Fry, who has spent the last dozen years working in health management. "I had to find a way to finish my degree and still have a life."

To that end, she searched the Internet and took a peek at Seattle Pacific's homepage, where she read about the new DCP. Attending an informational meeting on the program convinced her that the non-traditional route works best for her. "I have to meet SPU's academic standards, but at the same time I feel SPU understands my personal goals."

Fry adds that once she graduates, she'd like to go on and earn a master's degree in public health. "The University has created a way for me to do what I've always wanted to do."

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