CBNNews.com - VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Colleges these days are doing some of their best work with students off-campus -- in fact, in many cases, all the way on the other side of the planet.
That's because the computer is allowing anyone anywhere with access to the internet to get an education at more and more colleges.
Regent University, CBN's next door neighbor in Virginia Beach, Va., is on the cutting edge of "online ed." It offers the first accredited online doctoral counseling program in the country.
Some Must Work, Some Must Stay at Home
David Colpitts attends -- via computer -- from his home in Toronto. He said, "It really came down to my ability to afford a program because I have to work while I go to school, I can't just study."
For many students these days, there's really no other option but online. That's what Regent's undergrad associate dean Greg Morris said, pointing to one group as an example: "Single mothers who work, have family to take care of, have soccer practice; they just cannot feasibly get their college degree by going to a campus setting."
There weren't counseling programs to match Regent's in Toronto. But as Canadian David Colpitts pointed out, "To move to the states and to try to find work and to go to school just seemed almost insurmountable."
Dr. Agatha Parks-Savage is one of the faculty for the counseling program. She says when she was first asked to teach online, she had big doubts. She recalled saying to herself, "I don't want to teach online. This is so different from what I'm used to. This can't work."
But now she sees real benefits.
Some Classes Span the Planet
Especially with live conferencing so easily available now. She said, "When we all put our microphones on and headsets, we have webcams and we can actually look at each other during this live classroom. And what's amazing about that is we have students all over the world. We have students in Singapore, Canada, Jamaica, west coast, east coast. So it's great that we can all come together."
Colpitts added, "I have been surprised at the sense of community and camaraderie among the students in the online program."
The same is true for Dallas Theological Seminary.
It offers courses in Chinese to Asians all over the world, with Chinese speakers hired in Dallas to work with each student.
Asians worldwide can watch a professor giving a lecture to a class in Dallas while his words are translated into Chinese and scroll across the screen. Seminary President Mark Bailey told CBN News, "We have students from Beijing, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Ukraine, Australia, Malaysia, all taking courses from Dallas Seminary at a Master's level in the Chinese language."
Teaching Jesus in the Open
What's groundbreaking about this program is it's the first to train Christian pastors and church-workers in the facts of their faith right there in communist China.
Others might be surprised, but not Bailey. He said, "Given the fact that Christianity is the fastest-growing faith in China and there's more than a hundred million Christians in China country-wide, it's not really surprising to us that there would be that kind of interest in theological training and theological education."
Some 600 students from five continents are now enrolled in the seminary's online program.
And 80 percent of Regent's undergraduate students are getting their degrees via their computers.
But what sometimes keeps both professors and students from embracing online ed is the feeling it won't be as good as in-the-flesh classes.
Dr. Jim Sells directs Regent's online doctoral counseling program. He pointed out, "There is something really invigorating about being in a live classroom with 25 students."
But that changes as both sides realize they don't have to be together anymore in the same physical space. Sells stated, "That can easily be replaced or accommodated with the technology that's available."
Plus, the Regent doctoral students meet on campus every summer to reconnect in person for a few days.
And Toronto's Colpitts pointed out Regent makes sure there are plenty of group online projects and interaction so students get to know and care for each other. He said he's been impressed by, ".the way people will just pick up the phone and call if there's a problem, the way people show concern for each other, so you do feel integrated into a community."
Will be for Every Age in Every Nation
Sells believes online will prove so effective, it will even alter how high school and grade school kids are taught.
Already one of the most popular alternative programs to regular public school in America is an online ed program called K-12 Inc. Many homeschoolers embrace it.
And both Sells and Morris are particularly excited about reaching out to the Third World. Morris said, "There are markets internationally where their population doesn't have access to good education."
Sells points out now Third World churches can get their leaders educated cheaply online. Sending them in-person to American campuses can easily cost 40-thousand dollars a student.
So, in so many ways, for so many potential students, it appears the future's as close as their keyboard.
Parks-Savage warned, "Some of us who are resistant about the whole concept of online, you're going to be really behind. Because people are wanting it and they want quality programs."
*Original broadcast June 10, 2008.