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SOU business degree has online twist

Hoping to meet the needs of business people who live far from college campuses, Southern Oregon University has begun offering a bachelor's degree in business administration, using online courses as well as visiting professors at Southwestern Oregon Community College in Coos Bay.

The degree, identical in cost and content to the one offered on campus, comes in management or accounting options.

It's designed for "the working population, who have jobs and families, or want to start their own businesses, but can't leave town for education," said SOU teacher Joan McBee.

The program started spring term and will graduate its first students fall term next year, McBee said.

Students communicate with professors and other students via e-mail, Skype, Elluminate (group teleconferencing) and Discussion Board (an instant-messenger program).

Students appreciate the chance to learn in their own environment through online courses, but they also want real, face-to-face professors on a regular basis, she said. McBee and other teachers drive to Coos Bay three times a term for an all-day Saturday "face time" class, McBee said.

Without the teaching and online courses, "students didn't make the drive to SOU and didn't get their degrees ... so we brought it to them," McBee said. "They're getting their degree in an environment that's more suitable to them, and they get to know each other, network and build cohesiveness and support."

Coursework includes finances, operations, management, marketing and other areas, she said.

Students on the south coast can get lower division basics in classrooms at SOCC, then finish their business degree in six or seven terms, depending on whether they attend full or part time.

"They mostly want to stay in their region when they graduate, and I believe they will get better jobs, with some wanting to start their own businesses," McBee said.

Student Kory Isley praised the offering, saying, "I joined the hybrid program because I didn't want to leave town to get a bachelor's degree, nor did I want to quit my job. I also didn't want to completely lose the face-to-face interaction with teachers and students."

Working on a degree with the accounting option, student Valarie Zito foresees greater financial stability and more job opportunities. "The hybrid program in Coos Bay gives me the freedom to follow my dream of getting my degree of choice without moving to a city with a university," Zito said.

The degree has 12 students enrolled now, with another 45 expressing interest, once they complete their lower division work. The program is expected to have 20 by the end of this academic year.

"People in Coos Bay don't have much choice when it comes to earning a bachelor's degree," McBee said. "Having been an instructor at SOCC, I've seen how excited students are when they get their associate degree. They want to continue and get a bachelor's, and I'm glad we can provide them with more choices."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.