A Saudi prince earns a master’s degree in social science from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. A mother of four working as a nurse in the Middle East studies for a family nurse practitioner certificate through the College of Nursing. And a college network systems administrator in Massachusetts earns a master’s degree in telecommunications and network management from the School of Information Studies. What do they have in common? Each completed the bulk of his or her studies at home, far away from Syracuse, participating in Syracuse University’s flexible, limited-residency Independent Study Degree Programs (ISDP). “These courses are designed so students can tailor their work to their own schedules,” says Robert Colley, director of marketing communications and distance education at University College. “Some get up in the middle of the night and work on their assignments, some get up early, some do it during their lunch hours. Many do their work on laptops, on planes, and in hotel rooms. It doesn’t matter where they are—once the residency period is over they can complete their work from anywhere, as long as they are in touch with their professors.”
      Offered through nine of the University’s academic divisions, SU’s ISDP is one of the three oldest distance education degree programs in the country. Graduate students can earn master’s degrees in advertising design or illustration, business administration, information management, library science, telecommunications and network management (TNM), communications management, engineering management, nursing, or social science (which counts among its alumni Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin AbdulAziz Alsaud G’85 of Saudi Arabia). Undergraduate programs include bachelor’s and associate degrees in liberal studies. A certificate of advanced study for family nurse practitioners is also available. University College, SU’s continuing education arm, offers credit and noncredit courses over the Internet in African American studies, engineering, English, geography, investing, management, nursing, philosophy, political science, psychology, religion, sociology, weaving, and writing. The School of Education offers several online graduate courses each year in instructional design, development, and evaluation.
      About 1,000 students are enrolled in ISDP, approximately a sixth of whom are international students or Americans living abroad. “I’d always wanted to further my education and become a nurse practitioner, but with four growing children I had not gone back to school for my master’s degree,” says Wendye DiSalvo ’00, who completed the family nurse practitioner program while living in Saudi Arabia, where she has worked as a nurse for nine years. “This program was a perfect opportunity to achieve my goal. You can live anywhere and complete your courses—the Internet allows effective communication with your professors.”
      Mark Berman, director of network systems at Williams College in Massachusetts, is a distance student in the TNM program at the School of Information Studies. He chose ISDP mainly because the closest comparable program was more than a half-hour’s drive from his home. “The advantages are the convenience of it—the ability to work the program into my schedule and around my children—and gaining contact with people who are also in the program and scattered all over the country,” he says. “I developed friendships with people who are in different places, doing very different kinds of things. That’s been rewarding.”
      The only real disadvantage, he says, is the lack of direct face-to-face contact with classmates and faculty after the initial residency period. Berman says this was not much of a problem for him, having communicated on various networks for almost 20 years, but others in his classes needed time to adjust. Even so, he feels distance education has much to offer. “I’m getting as good an education as I would get in a classroom,” he says. “Maybe better, because the online environment forces you to participate more than you might if you were just sitting in a room.”
      Patricia Longstaff, an S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications professor, says she often has more contact with her distance students than with students who are on campus. “They call me more often and send more e-mail,” she says. “They also communicate with each other at least as much as students do in my on-campus classes. These are professionals who are often more demanding of their coursework—and their professors—than other graduate students. They know what they want from their classes and aren’t afraid to ask for it. They are good consumers.”

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