By Matthew C. Peeling
Online education is here to stay and in a big way.
Many critics speak about the credibility of online education. They speak about how online schools are taking advantage of students. They speak about how online universities are degrading the traditional education system.
But the fact is that private for-profit and non-profit online education systems are a rapidly growing industry. Because of its newfound relevance, online education is forcing positive change to occur at all levels of higher learning.
The growth of the online educational industry, in my opinion, is directly attributed to the fact it makes higher education available to those who don’t have access to traditional education systems. It allows the adult learner to attend school while working full-time and handling their other duties in life, such as raising a family, serving in the military, and dealing with personal issues, such as illness or disability.
To give a little background on how online education is having a positive impact in education, there needs to be supporting evidence. The evidence I present is my own story, so please bear with me as I set the stage for my own pursuit of higher learning.
My higher education story begins with post-high school goals, which were to attend a top-tier college and to play Division I college football. I was not the best student in high school, because I preferred to skate by, but I was a decent football player.
The problem I faced was how I could attend college with poor grades and coming from a family that could not afford to send a child to college, much less all four of us children. The answer for me was to join the U.S. Army Reserve, fulfill my six-year commitment as a combat medic, and then use the G.I. Bill to fund my educational goals. This seemed like a good plan, especially since my father received his GED and other specialized education in the Navy while serving as a frogman shortly after World War II and into the late 1950s.
The plan was sound, but life decided it had other plans for me. While working on a civilian plumbing job, I was injured in a forklift accident that resulted in my becoming a paraplegic. As you can imagine, this eliminated any plans for a shot at Division I football and limited my possibilities for a job that required physical abilities, such as those required in the plumbing industry. This is also the point at which my Mom said I had an accident and found out I had a brain. I love you, Mom! (My family has always relied on humor to get us through tough times.)
After recovering for several months and then rehabilitating for several more, I was finally ready to return to the job market. My rehab had included a seven-month intensive plan of coursework in Management Information Systems provided by Johns Hopkins University, Carey School of Business, which had partnered with the State of Maryland Department of Rehabilitation Services.
Upon completion of the course work, I had obtained a certificate from Johns Hopkins and proceeded to search for work. Given my blue-collar upbringing, I was relentless in my search and finally landed my first job working in the computer industry. As life does, it passed very quickly, during which I was fortunate to accomplish many things, including helping to build a software company from $500,000 a year in revenue to $40 million a year at the time of my departure.
Jump forward to 2010. I was in a place in my life that allowed me to finally pursue my educational goals. I was in my early forties and had recently been dealing with a complication of my paralysis that forced me to slow down and stay out of my wheelchair as much as possible. For those who know me, I was not going to just lie around and do nothing.
Fortunately, my employers allowed me to work from home, which kept me busy during the regular day. The nights and weekends, however, were a different story, and I needed something to keep those times busy as well. Often in my free time, I would read or watch TV to increase my knowledge of U.S. military history. While reading a popular WWII magazine, I came across an ad for obtaining a degree in military history.
As I read the ad, I noticed the degree was being offered in an entirely online format, which was perfect for me given my restrictions. I immediately got out my computer and began investigating the school that offered the degree program. As my internet research proceeded, I began to look for any online degree program in military history. That is when I came across American Military University (AMU).
After reading about the school, doing my due diligence, and talking with people who had attended classes online at AMU, I knew that AMU was my school of choice. The reasons I selected AMU are pretty simple:
• It was an accredited online university.
• It is reasonably priced and has not increased tuition in over ten years.
• It offered a military history degree program that many other universities did not offer.
• Everyone I spoke to about the school had a positive experience while attending AMU.
• It was largely a community of current and past military personnel.
For me, reintegrating into the military community was important, because I feel most comfortable among fellow service members.
The journey to attend college and complete my degree has finally been accomplished. After enrolling in classes at AMU and changing my major to Information Technology Management (to take advantage of credits I had earned at Johns Hopkins), I received my Bachelor of Science in 2012. Currently, I am two classes and a capstone away from receiving my Master’s in Business Administration with a concentration in Information Technology Management.
I accomplished this while working full-time and dealing with an illness from which I have since recovered. Without the ability to attend college online, I would have never accomplished these lifelong goals. In addition to receiving my degree, I have the benefit of creating new relationships with classmates, serving for three years as president of the AMU chapter of the Student Veterans of America, and participating in other student organizations. Without online education, I would have never had the opportunity to accomplish these milestones.
My story is only one of many that demonstrates the need for quality online education, which can be accessed without attending a brick-and-mortar university. Online education is necessary and here for the long haul. Where the education system in the United States goes from here is still being determined.
Three things I know for sure are that education has become more accessible, will continue to improve in quality, and will continue to expand into the global market. These events are occurring now, and for the education system in the United States to continue to prosper, especially in the global market, all types of schools—for-profit, non-profit, online, brick-and-mortar—must join together and learn from each other.
After all, isn’t learning what education is all about?
About the Author
Matt Peeling is an information technology professional with over 25 years in the industry, a disabled veteran from the Cold War era, and an alumnus of American Military University, where he received his B.S. in Information Technology Management. Currently, he is a senior graduate student at AMU pursuing his MBA with a concentration in Information Technology.