When Michelle Renfro recently learned that Tennessee Tech University would be offering an online degree program this fall, one word came to mind:
"Convenience," she said.
Renfro, 29, works full-time in Nashville and is part of the first group of students to enroll in the university's online degree program, administered through the Tennessee Board of Regents. She now wants to be sure her degree is awarded through Tennessee Tech.
Several students have already signed up for TTU's Regents Online Degree Program (RODP), said Edith Duvier, director of the program for TTU, and many more are expected to participate as registration for the fall semester nears; registration will take place through the end of August.
"This program has really taken off better than we expected," she said.
The RODP is part of a larger effort by the Tennessee Board of Regents to allow students from anywhere in the world to enroll in any TBR college or university to earn one of three associate's degrees or two bachelor's degrees. TTU is a member of the TBR.
"This is the wave of the future," Duvier said.
"We even have a former TTU student in Hawaii, in the army, who played football for us but didn't finish his degree, and now he's signed up for this program and will get his degree. Even students who live in Cookeville wanting to finish their degrees can now do so online."
The program's focus is primarily on non-traditional students — those who work full-time and have families or other responsibilities that don't allow them the capability of attending classes in a traditional, on-campus classroom setting.
"This program is designed for those who, for some reason or another, have had to quit school but always wanted to finish — and now they can with the online degree program," Duvier added.
TTU will offer the bachelor of Professional Studies, with concentrations in either Information Technology or Organizational Leadership, and the bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies in either general, liberal or university studies.
"The online degree program is great for me. I've attended college classes for a while, but it got frustrating for me to ask time off of work to attend classes," said Renfro, who is pursuing a degree in Information Technology. "At one time, I was attending both day and night classes. Now I can do my work in the evenings when I go home, in the comfort of my home."
Students enrolling in the online degree program will be discouraged from taking too many hours at first, Duvier said, because the studying and homework involved will be just as heavy as if the student was in an actual classroom.
"The idea that these classes will be much easier because they are on the web is false. Students will still need to spend adequate time studying and preparing for class, and the classes will be just as challenging as an on-campus class," she said. "They must be responsible and disciplined; getting this degree is not just going to happen on its own."
The TBR online degree program could also eventually help TTU increase its enrollment. Students enrolling in the RODP choose their "home" institution, or the school that will grant their degrees, regardless of where they're located.
And what makes the RODP program different from other online degrees is that it combines classes taught at TBR institutions across the state to comprise the full program. But that fact should be seamless to the student who studies in his or her living room at night.
"We've brought tremendous expertise and technological resources together to address a serious problem," said TTU Provost Marvin Barker. "The potential for this program to address the issue of a more educated Tennessee is definitely there."
And for Renfro, it's as simple as getting a quality education in a convenient setting.
"I hope to get my degree and knock them dead," she said, smiling.
Costs for the program are the same as the home school's tuition rates plus an online course fee that equals 25 percent of the in-state tuition per credit hour. Students can register through August for the 12-week courses. For more information, call TTU Admissions at 372-3888 or 800-255-8881.