Look for coaching, support if going to college online

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Higher education has become an important, if not a required way to advance your career. There are many options with online learning appealing to adults who already have a job. But it's important to know what you are getting into before you start.

“I stopped going to college initially because I started my family,” said Edlih Gallardo.

She was working and raising her children but always wanted to finish her degree.

“Basically, I would work until 5 o'clock and the class would start at 6,” she said. "If I couldn't get to class on time, automatically you had a deduction of points for participation.”

So she stopped again, but she later learned about ASU Online and enrolled in a liberal studies program.

“I would get random phone calls, 'Just checking in on you and making sure your classes are going well,' ” she recalled. “ 'Do you have any questions about the next semester or what you need to do next?' ”

The school has found that enrollment and success “coaches” stay on top of students and keep them focused. Director of Student Services Joe Chapman says their students are a little older, sometimes with careers, children and more complicated lives.

“We want to make sure we are bridging that gap,” Chapman said, “and that we're serving as that support system, and that we're aware of what's happening in their lives.”

Online schools can track whether students turn in assignments or take tests. Because it is computer based, it is easy to know if someone is struggling. They use programs to isolate a student's computer during testing to curb cheating, or require proctor testing at a center or college.

But there is no campus, and there are no group lectures. Gallardo said it takes self-motivation.

“You don't have that same one-on-one interaction,” she said. “You don't get to meet any other students. For me, there were no study buddies or things like that. You're kind of on your own.”

Chapman said they try to bridge the divide with one-on-one tutoring and the coaches.

“We like to refer to it as 'energy management,' ” he said.

And it isn't completely different from traditional school. Gallardo was able to study in Central Europe for a month, learning a fourth language and preparing for her next career move.

“I did go with the language department to Central Europe,” she said. “It was an amazing experience, and I came back and I walked in the winter. It was like fireworks! It was the best experience.”

No matter which program you choose, it is important to look for that extra support, such as the coaches. ASU Online has managed to keep 87 percent of its undergraduate online students in school.

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