Distance Pioneer

Syracuse University offered its first external degree program, the bachelor of liberal studies, in 1966. At the time, only the University of Oklahoma and Goddard College in Vermont offered baccalaureate correspondence programs, as they were then known. “There’s always been a certain taint to the term ‘correspondence program,’ even though there are many fine ones still in operation,” Colley says. “The signature of Syracuse was the limited residency model. Faculty felt that combining short periods of in-person student contact as an anchor to the distance portion made a lot of sense.” Limited residency was then incorporated into a cluster of programs that began operating under the ISDP banner, all administered through University College. Since 1996, the School of Information Studies and the School of Management have managed their own distance programs, but seven of the University’s schools and colleges still partner with University College. The academic content and program admissions are controlled by these schools, but University College does the marketing, handles registration and advising, and manages budgets for the programs. “We set up the residencies, make logistical arrangements such as hotels and classrooms, and provide technical support for the distance portion of the programs,” Colley says.
      Residency requirements vary from program to program. Distance students working on a master’s degree in nursing come to campus four times during their three-year program to take classes and participate in retreats. “We’ve often found that students who are on campus for two or three weeks each year know each other better than students who come to class each week,” says Janice Pedersen, director of professional and graduate admissions at the College of Nursing. “These students are extremely focused and career-oriented. They have the opportunity to devote two or three weeks a year to just their educational pursuits. They go home and stay connected by e-mail, listservs, chat rooms, and their online courses.” The last residency coincides with University commencement, in which distance students take part. “That’s when they really feel like they’re part of the University, when it finally all comes together,” Pedersen says.
      Ginny Tierney, a clinical specialist in pediatric cardiology who is studying advanced practice nursing, says her classmates connected from the beginning. “They are the most incredible assortment of individuals I have ever had the privilege to be associated with,” she says. “Talented people, one and all, and wonderfully supportive. Having the time together on campus gave us something a strictly online course would not: human faces to go with the names. We have remained connected through the Internet.”

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