Criminal Justice online program offers flexibility

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Criminal Justice graduate assistant Crystal Kass consults with Professor Barry Schreiber about her schedule.

Criminal Justice graduate assistant Crystal Kass consults with Professor Barry Schreiber about her schedule.

Criminal justice graduate student Crystal Kass ’08 is typical of St. Cloud State University’s growing online student population. Her multifaceted life – wife and mom, commuter student and graduate assistant – is eased by the flexibility offered by online courses.

Like many students, Kass didn’t come to St. Cloud State right out of high school. The Maple Lake native went first to North Hennepin Community College. During a single week in December 2005, she took her last finals for an associate of arts degree, gave birth to son Colin and moved into a new home. The following summer she started a mixture of online and on-campus classes at St. Cloud State, earning a bachelor’s degree two years later.

Kass, who works part-time as a graduate assistant in the Criminal Justice Department’s undergraduate advising center, completed about one-third of her undergraduate course load online. During her final undergraduate semester in spring 2008, Kass took all of her courses online. She plans to complete her master’s degree in 2010 and begin work toward a doctoral degree.

At St. Cloud State, eight percent of all course work is being completed online. From 2004-09, the number of online course sections increased from 365 to 893 and the number of course registrations grew from 3,431 to 12,246.

Criminal justice is the only major that offers its entire undergraduate and graduate course load online. Of the 6,000-plus students enrolled in online courses last year at St. Cloud State, 1,337 were in at least one criminal justice course.

Online students like Kass say it takes dedication to do as well in an online course as in one with a set schedule and classroom sessions. She makes frequent contact with her professors through e-mail messages and by stopping to talk with them when she’s on campus. “I make it a point to make sure I get to know all my course professors personally,” she said. “They’re a resource, and they have a lot to offer. You’re missing out if you don’t tap into that.”

Senior Sherry Eisenhart, a political science major from Sartell and mother to two-year-old Trevan, agrees it takes strong commitment to succeed as an online student. “You have to be a self-starter,” she said.

Eisenhart, who also works 20 hours a week as a photographer’s assistant in St. Cloud State’s University Communications office, takes about half of her criminal justice courses online, which helps her juggle her complex life. Her husband, a St. Cloud Technical College student and National Guardsman, returned in 2005 from his first 14-month deployment to Iraq and he returned there in January.

For both Kass and Eisenhart, carving out time for course work is eased by the online option. “And there’s definitely just as much availability with professors,” said Eisenhart, who will pursue a position as a police officer after graduation. “Either calling or e-mailing they’re really good about getting back to you.”

Today’s students are used to instant messaging, and online teachers must reply quickly to students, said Criminal Justice Department Chair Bob Prout. “Many students see themselves as customers. Before they enroll for online classes they check www.ratemyprofessor.com to see what previous students have posted, and we have some excellent part-time and full-time online teachers.”

- Marsha Shoemaker

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